India in New Zealand 2013-14 January 30, 2014

Not just bowling that is going wrong

India have lived up to their reputation of being profligate with the ball, but worryingly even their batting has begun to falter outside Asia

In June 2013, India's ODI stocks were at a high. The selectors had just dropped several senior players and the young squad had done them proud by winning the Champions Trophy. With the World Cup only in February 2015, there was more than enough time for the immense promise shown in England to be further enriched by experience over the next year and a half.

Come January 2014, and the stocks have suddenly plummeted. India have been unable to win even one of their last six completed ODIs away from home and had the Centurion match against South Africa not been washed out after India conceded yet another 300-plus score, a seventh game might have been added to this sorry run.

India were blown away by Dale Steyn and co in South Africa but conditions were much more benign in New Zealand. Yet, it took a freak seventh-wicket partnership for India to avoid going down 0-4 to a side ranked at the other end of the ODI ladder.

MS Dhoni has admitted he does not know which fast bowlers he could possibly take with him to the World Cup. The slower they come, the faster they disappear. The faster they come, the faster they disappear. They take the pitch out of the equation, in the self-damaging way. For, as Dhoni said after the series was lost in Hamilton, if you keep bowling short and wide, you cannot complain that there are only four men on the boundary.

They all seem promising when they come into the squad. They all have varied, useful skills. But they are not able to sustain pressure, crack easily when put under it. You can keep talking about the finer points of seam position and release, but if you are not able to pitch successive deliveries in the same area close to off stump, such details are irrelevant. When they lose it, India's fast bowlers often do so together. They have a bowling coach, but it is not clear if his remit also includes developing mental strength, for they often panic when attacked.

It is not that India haven't tried and tested different personnel. Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Vinay Kumar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Praveen Kumar have all played a decent number of games, at least 20, since the 2011 World Cup. The revolving door has seen many more in that period: Varun Aaron, Munaf Patel, Ashok Dinda, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohit Sharma, RP Singh, Abhimanyu Mithun and Zaheer Khan.

That last name is interesting as Zaheer's last ODI was in August 2012. He returned to the Test team stronger and fitter, but should India bring him back for the one-dayers too? How effective will he be under the new rules? While he lasts, the others can at least resume leaning on his experienced shoulders. This is completely short-term thinking, but the World Cup is also not too far ahead anymore.

Fast bowling is only one problem Dhoni is facing, but it is at least the usual one. It is the batting that will worry him, considering how over-reliant India are on it. It is rare that India's batsmen fail to shut out chases after coming close.

The openers, who were churning out century stands not too long ago, are now failing to convert starts. Shikhar Dhawan's gold rush had to end sometime but worryingly, he insists on charging and pulling short balls without any caution. Rohit Sharma starts the same way. He takes too many deliveries to get going unless the pitch is dead, and does not rotate the strike enough. He is not a natural opener, and you can be allowed a certain leeway for that, but his approach also jacks up the pressure on the batsman at the other end, especially during the chases.

Shami, Ishant, Vinay, Bhuvneshwar, Yadav and Praveen have all played a decent number of games, at least 20, since the 2011 World Cup. The revolving door has seen many more in that period: Aaron, Munaf, Dinda, Unadkat, Mohit, RP Singh, Mithun and Zaheer

India are also attempting to look beyond Yuvraj Singh at No 4, and finding how difficult it is to develop a replacement. They tried out Suresh Raina briefly, but forget No 4, he's become too unproductive to be carried even at No 5. Ajinkya Rahane is yet to impress in the few opportunities he's had at the position.

The load on Virat Kohli and Dhoni himself has kept on increasing. They have continued to get the runs, but two batsmen, however great, can't plug the numerous leaks left behind by five bowlers. Ravindra Jadeja has finally shown encouraging signs of growing as an international batsman, but that is where another problem area emerges.

Dhoni has little faith, to an extent justifiably, in his fast bowlers. But he is also a man who will not deviate from standard policy till the ship has almost sunk. The combination of that means two spinners are what India will most likely always stick to, be it in South Africa or New Zealand. Jadeja and R Ashwin are fine bowlers and decent batsmen, but it is unlikely either of them are going to run through a top side at the MCG next year.

ODI cricket is changing slowly. The fielding restrictions have made aggressive captains realise they need to keep taking wickets to stay in the game. Containment, with only four deep fielders, is no longer the default option. With fewer boundary riders, release is always available to batsmen. Part-time bowlers have become a risky proposition. But for a man who has constructed an era based on stifling opposition batsmen with spinners and part-timers, it is not going to be easy to adapt.

As always, Dhoni is not spoilt for choice. New Zealand have Corey Anderson. They have Jimmy Neesham as back-up seam allrounder. India, on the other hand, have a modest option in Stuart Binny. But on his debut, the captain does not let him bat even at No 7, and instead gives him just one over with the ball.

Whichever area you look at, the picture appears bleak at the moment. There is just over a year left for the World Cup. India's players will go into extended Twenty20 mode soon with the World T20 and the IPL following which there are long Test tours of England and Australia.

On the evidence of the last two ODI series, India's World Cup defense appears on shaky ground, and there is not much time left to strengthen it.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy on February 3, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    For india's no 4 batting spot in odis, i feel that dhoni should be the right person to bat at this position to prevent india's inexperienced middle order getting exposed in overseas tours... That would provide him more time to be set and then attack in the slog overs

  • Sanjeev singh on January 31, 2014, 16:30 GMT

    This is actually the heights of stubbornness I mean m Dhoni fan but what he is doing with the team and players is pathetic. Why I always see that genuine bowlers in the end with 6-7 overs bowled and some non bowlers bowling 8-9. Kohli opening why alter an already settled player when Rahane was already there. Binny was a guest Bunny for him. Poor lad. Tried Aron den Y not I.Pandey in final ODI. Zak shud return in ODI too. And for god sake rest Ashwin n take mishra on tours or Ojha they are rotting in inventories. But last not the least PUJARA I mean what this guy has to do to prove he is the one who can strengthen the batting order.

  • Kamaraj on January 31, 2014, 15:18 GMT

    In 5th ODI, The first 12.2 Overs of NZ innings is only 41runs with lose of 2 wickets... This shows Indian Fast bowlers are done well But due to shortage of Fourth Fast bowler ... IND loses match also Lost the series... Hence in Test match IND should play with 4 Fast bowlers to win the Test series against NZ

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2014, 12:43 GMT

    It's true! "Not just bowling is going wrong"! Oregon Governor John Albert Kitzhaber is stalled in his effort to replace the Glen Jackson Memorial Bridge by a bunch of "Oregon Senators" that won't vote in the funds because they themselves can't pass the credit checks with the construction & demolition company in order to move that equipment in! Why does it all have to be so clandestine? Why not tell the truth? For instance, bowling is good sport, good entertainment and deserving of the type of coverage that makes Indian athletes look like the "Clean" men they are. Good luck. I need some good luck, too, my home States of Washington & Oregon need a new I-205 bridge and I tell you people "Not just bowling is going wrong"!

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    Faltering? When has it Flourished away from home?

    note - not a single above 300 score.. Lucky didnt get to bat first more than one time.

    Average team, average performances..

    funny how Mr. Sanjiv says cant go any further down, wait for the test matches Sir, new lows yet to come :)

  • Naresh on January 31, 2014, 8:31 GMT

    WELL DONE TO NZ...they now really believe in themselves and have played excellent cricket. That is all that is needed. INDIA HAVE HAD A WAKE UP CALL. All departments are just not classy enough - of the current team only four players can remain - the rest need to be replaced (Dhoni, Kohli, Jadeja and Shami) Aaron/Yadav - need coaching and might make it due to the lack of pace bowlers in India. Pujara will have to come in as an anchor man.

  • sree on January 31, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Problem 1: Dhoni needs to understand that players need to be selected and supported purely on merit and not based on the zonal politics. Where are Pujara, Yuvraj, Pathans, Mishra, and Yadav? Huge questions of integrity on Dhoni and the veto above him. Dhoni should stop making those tricky political statements in defense of favored players. When the side loses for so long, captain is to be blamed first and most.

    Problem 2: Obsession with Rohit, Raina, Ashwin. What have these players done in domestic cricket? They are too pampered in the name of talent and IPL. They deserve to be dropped for at least one year from the team.

    Problem 3: India needs to set up a highly focused and productive fast bowling academy. Need to provide equal opportunities for at least 8 hand picked fast bowlers every year.

    Problem 4: Horses for courses. With world cup in Aus, India need to groom pace bowling all rounders like Pathan and Binny instead of spin bowling so called all rounders.

  • ESPN on January 31, 2014, 6:52 GMT

    Even though Dhoni may be the most successful captain so far - there is no way he can stay on any longer. New captain - Kohli must take over - the only way is "up" - India cannot go any lower than this!!! Four overseas series lost !!!! No captain can and should survive this.

  • TR on January 31, 2014, 0:32 GMT

    Problems stated nicely - but only partially. And the solutions?

    What about Dhoni's long rope for Ishant (he effectively wasted match trials for many others like Pandey, Binny and many more).

    What about some well paid members called "bowling coach" and "fielding coach". Do the selectors have a process to evaluate the coaches?

    Venkatesh Prasad complained that Ind pace bowlers do not bowl sufficient number of overs practice every day. Did any one address that?

    Do they have any batting coach? Can India hire the likes of Mike Hussey or Ricky Ponting to teach them how to play short balls? (or even for captaincy coaching)

    Can the Indians practice hitting the stumps in fielding like many other countries do?

    BCCI's efforts are only towards collecting the money and apportioning it.

    Something needs to be done for the quality of game as well.

  • current on January 31, 2014, 0:06 GMT

    In overseas conditions like NZ, Aus, it is a given that no current Indian pacer will succeed consistently. Accept it.

    Then focus on your strength.

    You still have spinners like Harbhajan, Jadeja, Misra, Ashwin, Rasool who can create problems for opposing batsmen. Look at how Lyon succeeded in the Ashes. Bring them in numbers along with two fast bowlers (amongst Zaheer, Yadav, Aaron, Shami, Bhuvi, Binny, Irfan, Munaf, Nehra...)

    That seems the only feasible way to have any chance of winning the world cup in 2015. People seem to have forgotten the world cup where NZ opened its bowling with a spinner (Jiten Patel).

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