Kohli pleased to see Jadhav, Pandya mature
Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, has said the performances of players like Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya were the biggest gains from the 2-1 series win against England. India came into the series carrying an unsettled middle order without Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu, and had recalled Yuvraj Singh after three years.
"Very pleased to see Kedar bat the way he did, very pleased to see Hardik perform with bat and ball," Kohli said after the match. "Very pleased to see Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) and Mahi (MS Dhoni) bat together and string that big partnership. And even today the partnership was outstanding between Kedar and Hardik, when we were 170-odd for 5 with all the experienced guys back.
"But I think these guys have shown character and stuck it out whenever we've been under pressure. And that to me is the stand-out of this series as a captain. The way the new guys have performed and the way MS and Yuvi have batted. Two youngsters stepping up was more pleasing to see rather than two experienced guys taking the team through. It was an opportunity for them and they played really well."
Jadhav had initially surprised England with his ODI hundred in the series opener in Pune. On Sunday, he was left with the lower order in another stiff chase. Pandya batted with Jadhav until the 46th over, reducing the equation to 45 from 27 balls, but the team fell short in the last over. Pandya had earlier put the brakes on England's momentum in the middle overs with the wickets of Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow as part of his last spell that read 6-0-21-3.
Kohli was happy with the balance Pandya added to the squad as a useful batsman at No. 7 and an extra seam-bowling option. "It's pretty helpful," Kohli said. "All the teams around the world have a fast-bowling allrounder which gives them a lot of balance. It allows you to play that extra batsman, I guess. Allows you to still play two spinners, two seamers and if the guy is good enough, he does the job for you.
"I think he bowled really well in the first and the third game, even today he picked up three wickets. He bowled in good areas. He was one of the few bowlers who was hitting the deck hard and getting purchase off it. And with the bat as well, he's got good instinctive play and now he's getting smarter and intelligent with more games. We spoke to him about not being too aggressive or reckless initially and he understands the importance of rotating strike and understanding when to score a boundary or hit the big shot. So he brings great balance to the side, I must say."
Kohli said he was happy with the target India faced, given England's depth in the batting order. He also expected their four-pronged pace attack to use the conditions to their strengths on the most seamer-friendly pitch of the series. India carried the chase until the last over, needing 16 from six balls, but fell short by five runs once Chris Woakes dismissed Jadhav for 90.
"If the wicket has grass and the surface is hard, you expect the English bowlers to bowl in better areas," he said. "They know how to bowl on these kinds of wickets because they know the amount of seam and bounce needed. They were pretty clever with their lines and lengths they bowled as well.
"It was pretty similar to how we bowl on Indian surfaces and how we reverse swing the ball. It's nothing new we faced. We knew it was going to be challenging facing their quick bowlers. That's why I said it's really nice to see two guys step up and take the game till the end. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the Champions Trophy. They are good enough to counter pace and swing and play positive cricket. The wicket was challenging throughout the day.
"This series win makes it all the more special that we are up against a side that probably has the best balance going around in ODI cricket, they have people batting till No. 10, bowling allrounders and good quick bowlers. We bowled well till the 45th and we expected them to go hard in the last five. I was pretty happy as a captain with what England scored by the end of 50 overs. With the bat, yes, we could have made partnerships bigger, especially mine and Yuvi. Maybe the game would have been different."
Even though India's middle order shone through the series, the opening slots were a worry with partnerships of 13, 14 and 13. KL Rahul played all three games and scored 8, 5 and 11, and Shikhar Dhawan managed 1 and 11 before being dropped in Kolkata. Ajinkya Rahane, who replaced Dhawan, was bowled in the second over for 1.
Since India are not scheduled to play any more ODIs before the Champions Trophy, Kohli said they would back the current openers and trust them to come back into form. He was not worried that India only had Tests, T20Is and the IPL lined up over the next few months and said the shortest format would benefit the side by improving their bowling skills in the slog overs.
"Whatever areas or concerns we have, we'll address them," Kohli said of the openers. "First we didn't have an opening problem, it was an issue with the middle order. Now the middle order has been sorted. We have very good openers with us. It's not a case where we have to find openers. You have to give chances for people to come back into form.
"I think if we back our openers and give them confidence, it's all about one or two innings in international cricket. Once you get the flow, everything clicks. The Champions Trophy is where we saw Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as an opening-pair revelation. We have played only at 70-75% potential as a batting unit. If we play at 100% I don't know how many runs we can score.
"The more T20 cricket we play, we'll get better at death-bowling. That's one thing I feel will be our advantage. As far as batting is concerned, the one area we look to focus on would be maintaining our batting techniques. And just using T20 cricket and ODI cricket as an extension of your Test batting - not necessarily be reckless out there and slog every ball we play."
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo