Form hunt continues for Sehwag and Gambhir
India's defeat in Ahmedabad was their first in 12 home ODIs, three short of the record created by Sri Lanka in 1996 and 1997. It's ODI cricket, you can lose to anybody, and streaks are understandably difficult to sustain. Still it was neither desirable nor expected that after three matches India could easily have been 2-1 down, or even 3-0, if only because of how easily they tamed their tormentors from the summer, England, in the return tour. The incredible belief that India carry into every home ODI - never mind the conditions - was tested thoroughly, and finally snapped in the third match.
West Indies might not seem as good on paper, but they have a larger number of dynamic players in their ODI squad than England do. After coming close in the first two ODIs, they eventually managed to put together a good enough team effort to topple India in Ahmedabad. India's problems have centred on the middle phase of the games, spread across both innings. Bowling first in all the games, they have failed to clean up the tail, and leaked runs generously in the end overs - 106 in the last 10 in Vizag, and 52 in the last three in Ahmedabad. In the first 10 overs of all matches put together, India have lost nine wickets, leaving Rohit Sharma a lot to do in company of the middle and lower-middle order.
The first part of the problem is not new to Indian ODI cricket, and is all the more expected given the inexperienced attack and captain. Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar are all raw, and have bowed length balls once too often. "The last five overs did not make much of a difference as they have good hitters and we were expecting them to fire in the series," Virender Sehwag said. "They batted well, we tried everything - slow, back-of-a-length, good length, yorkers - but they connected [with] everything."
India will be more concerned with what has been happening immediately after the West Indies innings. Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are yet to produce a single big innings since the World Cup, and have scored only 62 runs in six innings between them in this series. Of the two, Sehwag has always been an inconsistent ODI player, but Gambhir has been the big miss this series. Additionally, since his comeback to the national side, Parthiv Patel has failed to covert starts. It is a phase Dinesh Karthik went through when he was the back-up for MS Dhoni. Today, he is not even one of the top three keepers in the selectors' minds.
Sehwag conceded that the three needed to show up. "We have to look at our top order," he said. "We have to click and fire. We have to give a good start as a team so that we can achieve any target or set any target for the West Indies in the coming games.
"It is not only Raina who is not scoring runs. It is myself, Parthiv and Gautam too. Only Rohit and Kohli are scoring. We are top-order batsmen and it is our job to play well and give a good start. We need to look back at our batting performances. We are playing good cricket since sometime, but today [in Ahmedabad] we were not able to play well. We hope to do well and not let down our fans."
It is difficult to not look at Australia when considering the form of Sehwag and Gambhir, even though the latter has not been opening in ODIs, seemingly in order to accommodate Parthiv in the batting line-up. Both are one ordinary match away from going through 2011 without a Test century. India won't mind a couple of big partnerships from them and two easy wins before they go to Australia.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo