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IND vs SA, 2nd ODI: Jaded India Must Rethink Their Philosophy Towards 50-over Cricket, If They Have One

India’s newest age batters are ill-equipped to milk spinners. (Reuters Photo)

India’s newest age batters are ill-equipped to milk spinners. (Reuters Photo)

Ever since the Board of Control for Cricket in India imposed a mandatory minimum of 4mm of live grass on pitches in domestic cricket, the landscape has changed.

There are many versions of a saying that amount to the same thing: failure is a great teacher. If this is true, in any sense, the Indian One-Day International team must have been on the steepest learning curve over the last four days.

The fact is, they have failed and failed quite emphatically as a group. There have been individual performances worth referencing, such as Shikhar Dhawan’s smooth 79 in the first ODI, Rishabh Pant’s effervescent 85 in the second, and Jasprit Bumrah’s tireless effort under the scorching sun in clear skies.

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But, save for these, India has collectively failed. There is no need to beat around the bush, make excuses or try to build a different narrative.

The fact is, man for man, this Indian team is stronger than this South African team.

Janneman Malan has had an extraordinary start to his career, but it is still too early to bracket him with the great limited-overs cricketers South Africa have produced over the years.

Also Read: Rahul The Captain Raises Concerns; Bumrah Shines Among the Ruins

Quinton de Kock may be relieved to be playing only white-ball cricket, but he always gives you chances, as he did in the second ODI, only for India to fluff it.

Temba Bavuma is clearly growing in confidence as a leader and this is showing in his batting, where he is happy to take on the bowlers and set the tone soon after he comes to the crease. But, he is not yet a batter who should be allowed to dictate terms to a bowling attack such as the one India has.

What about Rassie van den Dussen? If you conducted a worldwide poll online (and India’s netizens home and away tend to dominate such exercises) on the best batters in ODI cricket, van der Dussen would have been lucky to sneak into the top 10.

But, cricket is not a popularity contest. Enforcing a cut off of 30 ODIs, Van der Dussen is comfortably the global leader among batters of all time. He’s currently cruising at 75.94, with Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands at 67, and India’s very own Virat Kohli at 58.75.

What the two matches of this ODI series have shown India should be a serious cause for concern.

On a Boland Park pitch that was between sluggish and flat — the very definition of an Indian surface in the summer months — India’s best batters have not been able to play spin well enough.

Aiden Markram is a fine batter, but his off-breaks would not get him into a second-division team in league cricket in any major Indian city. And yet, bowled eight overs for 34 runs, and picked up Shikhar Dhawan’s wicket.

On the same day, operating with the same ball and working with the same pitch, the best offspinner in the world, R Ashwin, ended up with none for 68 from 10 overs. Rishabh Pant’s stumping error ensured the wickets column stayed at zero, but the runs scored showed just how well South Africa’s batters played spin.

There is not so much a lesson to be learnt from this 2-0 early closure of this series as an admission of sorts. India’s batters, once among the best players of spin bowling in the world, are no longer that.

Ever since the Board of Control for Cricket in India imposed a mandatory minimum of 4mm of live grass on pitches in domestic cricket, the landscape has changed. Batters no longer grow up playing quality spin, and spinners are not encouraged to do the job they were picked for and are used to spear in darts just to get in a few dry overs and keep the over rate up.

As a result, India’s newest age batters are ill-equipped to milk spinners as they once did. Coming down the pitch and working the ball away for ones or twos, routinely, in a manner that forces the bowler to adjust his length has become rare. Keeping the scoreboard ticking with ease, which forced captains to change the field to plug gaps, has become almost non-existent.

rishabh pant during 2nd odi vs south africa
Rishabh Pant top-scored for India in 2nd ODI. (AP Photo)

Playing unusual angles, to manipulate the field, either to spread it or bring it in, is an art that seems to be from a bygone era. It’s is not entirely so, but that is how it feels at the moment.

Mostly, it’s block, block, block and then go big. Which explains Pant’s recent success. But this is not a routine that works for all batters.

Questions must also be asked about India’s broader philosophy towards 50-over cricket. For starters, do they have one?

The batting approach witnessed against South Africa suggests a lack of clarity. The top three are all accumulators rather than annihilators (that’s saved for T20 cricket) and if they don’t kick on after establishing a base, the middle- and lower-order batters are hamstrung.

But, what should scare the captain and coach the most is how unbalanced this team looks without Rohit Sharma at the top and Ravindra Jadeja as a floater doing all sorts.

If the absence of two players takes you from being world-beaters to easy prey, the others in the mix need to look in the mirror and ask themselves some serious questions.

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first published:January 22, 2022, 09:04 IST