India v South Africa, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval June 10, 2017

Can India push the accelerator early?

It might be time for India to put the old consolidation template to rest and go big during the middle phase in ODIs
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The Oval danced to various drum beats on Thursday. Rhythms of bhangra, papare, dandiya accompanied and, at times, did jugalbandi with the thudding Scottish drums.

Amidst such revelry, the cricket flowed gently. One man who created his own drumbeat was Shikhar Dhawan, the best batsman in the tournament's last edition in England. In this edition, Dhawan has been India's best batsman in terms of runs.

Having got starts in the two warm-ups and a watchful 68 against Pakistan, Dhawan had adapted quickly to English conditions. Against Pakistan, Dhawan played a suicidal stroke against a full toss to be caught in the deep. In that match, it was Dhawan's opening partner Rohit Sharma who had taken the lead role, before falling nine short of a hundred. Against Sri Lanka, Dhawan did not let any casualness creep in and took advantage of easy batting conditions to get his tenth ODI century after Rohit had fallen.

During their four-year partnership, which started in the 2013 edition of the Champions Trophy, the Dhawan-Rohit combination has cobbled together ten century partnerships, seven of which have come outside India. Three of them have come since July 2015 when the ICC introduced new playing conditions allowing only four fielders in the outfield. Since the last World Cup, they have the best average for openers overseas - 55.61.

Due to the stability they provide at the top, India have managed to have a blast in the final ten overs, setting up competitive totals. Each time India have scored big (at least 300) since July 2015, they have managed to do it without losing too many wickets. But does the old template of consolidating till the slog overs prove beneficial for India?

Since the start of 2016, India have lost three matches failing to defend 300-plus targets. That is the joint-highest number of defeats along with England, who have played more ODIs during this period. However, England have won ten matches having posted 300-plus totals compared to only two by India.

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have set many a platform, but is there benefit for India in more risk-taking? © IDI/Getty Images

On an average, India have scored 4.96 runs per over overseas in the first Powerplay (1-10 overs, compared to England's 5.06), 5.28 in the middle phase (10-40 overs; England 5.59) and then dashing to the finish at 8.40 in the final ten overs (England 8.55).

The success of the Dhawan-Rohit combination certainly allows Virat Kohli and the middle order the liberty to settle in. But there is also the danger that it can provide a false sense of security, something that could rob the team of runs in the end. This has already happened twice in the two matches this tournament.

Against Pakistan, when Dhawan departed, India were 136 after 24.3 overs. By the end of the 35th, India had suddenly slowed down, scoring just 38 runs in ten overs. Rain interruptions did play a role in the batsmen's mindset, but Kohli would go on to admit India were defensive.

Four days later, against Sri Lanka, the openers once put on 138 before Rohit fell in the 25th over. Although Dhawan and MS Dhoni ensured India did not fall apart after a middle-order collapse, India's run rate had gone down significantly.

In the 30-40 overs phase this tournament, India's run rate has been a sullen five runs per over, which is fifth among the seven teams - Pakistan are yet to reach the 40-over mark. That is significantly lesser than the 6.03 (while batting first) average that India have scored during this phase since July 2015 (second behind England).

India have an additional option in KL Rahul, an aggressive batsman, for a more positive approach up front © AFP

Against Pakistan, Rohit slowed down as he saw the three-figure milestone on the horizon. He took 26 balls to move past 80 after reaching 70. Dhawan's strike rate actually improved as he neared the century against Sri Lanka - he took 21 deliveries to move from 80 to 100. It is just not the Indian openers. Most batsmen usually hit the brakes as they approach the 90s. Taking too long during that phase affects the team eventually.

All three of Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli bat with similar mindsets: they like to settle in first before they start pulling the trigger. But is it time for India to re-calibrate while batting first? Can the top order start taking more risks, with one of the three taking a more aggressive route? India even have an additional option in KL Rahul, an aggressive batsman, for such an approach.

Depending on how good the batting conditions are, there could also be be scope at times to send in one of the three power-hitters - Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni - to play the pinch-hitter role with 20 overs to go. India have a capable lower middle-order, who can be ruthless in the final 10 overs, a phase where India have the best run rate.

Are India willing to take the risk in the long run? Kohli is cautious. "It's a thin line," he said on Saturday. "If you're trying to get 20 extra and you lose the set batsmen in that period of time, you end up getting 20 less. So you never know what is enough when you're batting first. All you have to do is try to defend the total they put on the board."

For now Kohli wants to follow the tried and tested method. "Every team is taking their time initially in getting in. I think the middle overs are something that teams are looking to target. We are doing something different, which is capitalising on the last few overs better than anyone. Yes, if you end up doing both those phases as well, then [you] probably end up getting a few more runs and then you also are good as a team."

As the influence of T20 cricket deepens, the middle overs certainly is a phase where the top teams are looking to stamp their authority. India are in a good position to move away from the old-school template and become the reformists.

Stats inputs by Gaurav Sundararaman

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harmon on June 11, 2017, 9:57 GMT

    The Ind-Eng comparison in the article is interesting but also misses the point narrowly. The gap between conservative Ind & Aggressive Eng is 292 vs 304 i.e. 12 runs i.e. 2 shots. Then one notes this is a comparison of how Ind & Eng bat OVERSEAS i.e. not a general comparison. Then one recalls Ind have played much lesser ODI cricket in this period. Of course Eng also had that monumental 444 knock vs Pak, that ODI series would clearly skew up all part-stats in their favour. From one angle one could say Ind nearly outbat Eng even when being conservative with 1-2 higher gears + some extra fuel left. Vs Pak it was a thrice rain interrupted inning lasting only 48 (not 50) overs. Vs SL it was the case of poor bowling and of course great batting by SL. We have now thrice seen these wickets are so flat one can win even when 3-4 down. Why be so critical? Aiming for 350 may yield 280, you want that?

  • naveed on June 11, 2017, 9:33 GMT

    Yes they will accelerate in India after SA will send them home tonight.

  • Kiran on June 11, 2017, 9:07 GMT

    It is not due to lack of understanding that the Indian openers are not accelerating. They are both afraid if losing their place in the team. Rahul is going to come back and he will be in the XI for sure. So only one of these two would be part of the team in future. That is why they are deliberately playing very safe to get runs against their name. The point is that this "combination" itself is wrong. Both of them take ages to get set. Opening batsmen like opening bowlers need to complement each other. These two clearly dont. When we had Sehwag, he used to complement Sachin or Gambir very well as he use to provide the fire power to the latter's stability. Let's get one fact straight. One day runs are a lot lot lot more easier to get than 10-15 years ago. SR is the new yardstick and not average as now a days even tailenders can stick around for 8-10 overs if required. Teams bat till 8 or 9 and bowling quality overall is abysmal. I would have a Roy over Dhawan in this India line up.

  • N on June 11, 2017, 7:34 GMT

    CRICFAN8160097097 - Definitely, 340/9 is better than 320/2, but the flip side is you can end up with 280/9. Then everyone will be up in arms about not having enough firepower in the slog overs because of aggressive batting & loss of wickets during the middle overs. Every strategy has its pros/ cons, but for fans it's only the final result that counts, strategy be damned.

  • kdcome1142981 on June 11, 2017, 7:26 GMT

    To do so the Indian team should be 1 Rohit (vc) 2 Tripathi (after proving himself in domestic circuit 3 Kohli (c) 4 pant (wk) 5 Hardik(been Stokes like role ) 6 Hooda (maxi role) 7 sarfraz ( after proving in domestic circuit)(finisher role like buttler ) 8krunal/axar 9kuldeep/chahal 10 bhuvneshwar 11 Bumrah with the reserves 12 kuldeep/chahal 13 krunal/axar 14 ishan 15 Samson .this team needs to play attacking cricket right through with being worried as we have batting depth till 10.this team has a good bowling strength as apart from four main bowlers it has Hardik ,Hooda and Tripathi also bowls gentle medium pace .this team will become world beaters

  •   Anand Palwankar on June 11, 2017, 7:06 GMT

    Currently what stretezy adapted by Rohit & Shikhar is very appropriate concidering the playing conditions. 50 overs game, have your eyes in & then go for runs. In English conditions keeping wickets in hand is most important thing to do. Around 60/0 in 15 overs is always better than 70/2 or 70/3. As an opener it is very nessessory for further progress to see off new ball. Acceleration is not issue as far as Indian batting concerned. Virat, MS, Yuvi, Hardik, Jaddu....huge capable list who can change the scenario in mere 2 or 3 overs. But they can do more easily and freely only if they enters about 7 or 8 wickets in hand. We watched in both matches. Rohit & Shikhar scored 2 century partnerships by this way only. Against Pak Yuvi & Hardik took charge & against SL we saw MS & Kedar on role. We put mighty total against both the opponents mainly because the perfect platform provided by Rohit & Shikhar. It was bowling we can say had a bad day against SL. So no point in changing batting plan.

  • Bharath on June 11, 2017, 6:37 GMT

    this why suresh raina should have been part of the team...as he is someone who is always looking for runs ...keeps hitting boudries and u never see him playing dots...would have been incredible in the middle overs.

  • Jose on June 11, 2017, 6:19 GMT

    @RaviMenon

    You said, "you have sufficient space in the middle overs to accelerate."

    That is precisely the point Ravi. and @many others.

    No one is asking the openers to risk the wickets against a new & swinging ball in the PP 1. Especially when there is cloud cover, as is happening in England, quite often . But dragging that style into many more overs in that middle part you are mentioning, is the issue.

    For the opening overs, they are adopting the right approach, and doing well.

  • James on June 11, 2017, 6:11 GMT

    300 were not this common at the time for Sachin/Ganguly/Sehwag ...so a 6 run rate after 10 overs was very good at that time...now a days all teams score 300 and it is no more a safe score...thanks to small boundaries, rules ,batting friendly wickets what ever it may be ...so we also have to change accordingly.....On roads like this in England , India should aim for 350/360 what ever be the strategy...Last match Dhoni exceeded expectation by scoring more than run a ball in a half century..now a days it a rarity.. We can not afford players who eat deliveries to settle first in a 5/6/7 position, if our plan is to score heavily on the end overs ..

  • A on June 11, 2017, 6:10 GMT

    Use Jadeja as pinch hitter at No. 3 or 4

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