After losing comprehensively in South Africa and beaten decisively in the first two ODIs in New Zealand, India were desperate to reverse the tide in the third match in Auckland. And they came close to doing so, courtesy some gutsy batting by Ravichandran Ashwin (65 off 46) and Ravindra Jadeja (66* off 45) in the end, which helped the visitors tie the contest and remain alive in the five-match series.
But barring the rearguard action from the lower order, there were not many positives for India in the game at Eden Park. Their bowling was once again listless, while their top-order batsmen failed to contribute meaningful knocks.
Despite his expensive outing (2 for 84) on Saturday, Mohammad Shami still looked the only Indian bowler threatening to take wickets. Bhuvneshwar Kumar lacked precision, while Varun Aaron was evidently carrying some leftover rust he gathered during his long injury layoff.
Ashwin finally lived up to his captain's unflinching faith in him, ending the wicketless streak that lasted 78.4 overs and gave away 323 runs before he got the breakthrough on Saturday. We have often talked about the Indian bowlers' inability to take 20 wickets in Test matches overseas, but now the same frailty is getting exposed in ODIs too.
Despite his extraordinary record as skipper, Dhoni is looking more and more a captain who is picking his bowlers on the basis of who could give away minimum runs rather than ones who could provide him wickets when needed. His decision to repetitively field first after winning the toss also reflects on his lack of trust in his bowlers to defend a total.
Dhoni should take solace from the fact that he has kept his touch with the bat, scoring two fifties. But at No. 6, he has often found himself saving a sinking ship - which throws up a case for Dhoni to promote himself up the order.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan might thank each other for putting on a fifty stand (64) for the first time since their 112-run partnership against Australia in Bangalore. But both have developed a knack of getting out when looking set for big scores; this is bound to hurt the team overseas, if not at home.
Not getting good partnerships while chasing big totals means India have been heavily dependent on Virat Kohli to do the bulk of the scoring. And to the credit of the 25-year-old, he has done his bit, scoring 123 and 78 in the first two matches, though both the knocks came in a losing cause.
Another player who has got Dhoni's constant backing for quite some time now is Suresh Raina, but he isn't converting his 20s and 30s into match-winning knocks, which has cost India quite a few games now as his lean patch seems ceaseless and whispers of his CSK link keeping him in Team India growing grow louder.
Some might say it's important to give players a long rope so that they rest assured of their place and play their natural game without the pressure of a sword hanging over them. But should it come at the expense of not trying someone who could do a better job? The answer to this question might be with Dhoni and the Indian team management. Hope they answer it before it's too late.
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