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Match Analysis

Powerless in the powerplay - India have too many holes in their bowling unit

New ball not bringing them wickets, their two wristspinners separated, India have major bowling issues to address

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Virat Kohli with his pace bowling group - Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya  •  Getty Images

Virat Kohli with his pace bowling group - Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya  •  Getty Images

Now that Hardik Pandya has shown - or has been forced to show because of a second-successive collective bowling breakdown - that he is not too far from being the sixth bowler that India need, we can move on to the more pressing matter. It is okay to bemoan the lack of multi-dimensional cricketers, and something to work on with the next crop, but Indian bowling's first dimension has been below par for a while now.
As has been pointed out widely, India have taken only three powerplay wickets in eight ODIs this year, but let us not cherry-pick a small sample from what has been a dismal year for them. At the start of the last year, they won their first bilateral series in Australia and also finished top of the table in the league stages of the World Cup in England. Let's go back to that time.
Since the start of the last year, only Scotland and Bangladesh have a worse bowling average than India's 51.52 inside the first ten overs. India have played more ODI cricket over this period than any other side. Out of 36 bowling innings, they have been wicketless in 15 powerplays. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has played 19 of these 36 matches; that average comes down to 33.73 in those. In the 17 matches that Kumar has not played, India have picked up just eight powerplay wickets.
It might be simple enough to surmise that in Kumar's absence India don't seem to have enough menace with the new ball, which sets up the tone for ODI innings. However, these numbers aren't as straightforward. Mohammed Shami, for example, has a better average in the powerplay than Kumar: 34.53 to 38.9. Batsmen have been least in control when facing Jasprit Bumrah: 69.3% to 72.8 for Shami and 76.84 for Kumar. Moreover, it is arguable that Kumar would not have made any difference in this series, for example, because the ball has not swung for anyone.
Whether it is the lengths that Kumar bowls - which makes him likelier to get a wicket when he draws indecision - or whether it is just freak numbers, one thing can't be denied: the absence of Kumar has had a knock-on effect on the middle overs. From immediately after the Champions Trophy to early 2019, India became the best ODI side in the world because of their middle-overs potency, which was attained through the wristspin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Kumar, Chahal and Yadav have played 27 ODIs, winning 20 and losing seven.
However, this was a combination they justifiably had to break. Kumar was losing pace and fitness, and in England they would need Shami's striking abilities more. In a perfect world, you would want to be aggressive and replace an extra batsman with Shami, but that would mean having Kumar at No. 7 followed by four Nos. 11. If India didn't do it then, imagine playing both Chahal and Yadav now with even Kumar unfit. In this squad that leaves you with Shardul Thakur as your best No. 7 batsman.
Yadav's replacement, Ravindra Jadeja, has held his own as far as a classic fingerspinner can do in modern limited-overs cricket, but India have consequently been a much-less threatening team in the middle overs, too. It is remarkable that Jadeja has gone at just 5.1 an over since the start of the last year, but that is not what India are after from their specialist bowlers. This is exactly why he was dropped in the first place. He is now getting a wicket every 69 balls; Chahal and Yadav wait for 30 and 40 balls.
Another way of taking wickets in the middle overs on flat pitches - as seen in the World Cup - is extreme pace and/or tall fast bowlers banging the ball in the middle of the pitch. India are not blessed in that department either.
At their most adventurous, India might still think of going with Kumar at No. 7 in order to bring together the two wristspinners, but with Kumar beginning to pick stress-related injuries more often as he gets older, his return doesn't seem like a middle-to-long-term solution. Deepak Chahar's name has been discussed because he does a similar job with the new ball. He might be worth a shot, but he won't magically give India the striking ability through the innings. He might still be a better pick than Navdeep Saini in current form, though. Not least because he will leave Bumrah more overs with the older ball, which he seems to prefer.
What will happen in the long term, though, is that Bumrah will definitely get better than he has been in the first two games. Even if the wickets don't come readily, he won't be bowling as many boundary balls as he has in these games. Chahal will improve too. Pandya will start to bowl more. A home World Cup might mean India could even playing Jadeja and both the wristspinners if Pandya can give Bumrah and Shami a hand in the first ten.
However, on flat pitches - which is the norm in ODIs - India have too many holes: no extreme pace, no attacking bowlers who can also bat - to be considered a par bowling unit. For which that will have to make up with exceptional individual performances or the batting.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo