India vs West Indies: ODIs point out India have a major batting problem

Want to win Test matches? Take 20 wickets, consistently, every innings, no matter what conditions you are playing under. How do you do this? Build a bowling offense that covers all the bases – spin, pace, home and away.

Want to win ICC white ball cricket tournaments? Score runs, lots of them. How are you doing that? Build a ferocious batting team that will outplay your opponents nine times out of ten, regardless of the conditions. In white-ball cricket, it’s not so much about taking wickets as it is about restricting the line-up of opposing batters, and therein lies the key.

India flooded the West Indies across three ODIs, and after a stunning defeat in South Africa, this series followed a fitting winning script under full-time captain Rohit Sharma. Beating this opposition should never have been a problem, but that 3-0 victory didn’t go as smoothly as the men in blue would have expected.

India’s premier struggles

Between Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, southpaw Dhawan has the highest individual ODI score in 2022 (79 against South Africa). PA

Here is an amazing statistic for you. Since January 1, 2020, India have contested 21 ODIs and recorded only four individual scores over 100 in this interim. Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul (twice) and Shreyas Iyer are the only drummers to score centuries in the last 25 months. There are four other scores over 90 in this span – two each from Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya.

Break it down further: India have played nine ODIs in 2020 and another six in 2021. Three of those four hundred have come in 2020, and only one in six matches in 2021. In six ODIs in 2022 so far, no batsman Indian hasn’t scored a hundred yet. It’s getting worse. As of 2022, India’s highest individual score is Rishabh Pant’s 85 against South Africa.

This centuries-old drought is unprecedented by Indian standards. Usually the top order scores at the ticker and the middle order barely has a chance to hit. However, this scoring machine came undone late. Part of it has to do with the lack of playing time – ODIs are rare and batsmen lose the rhythm. Even so, the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli haven’t quite dominated the bowling attacks like they used to.

Among the three, 79 (Dhawan vs SA) is the highest individual score in 2022. In 2021, Dhawan had the highest score with 98 against Sri Lanka. Kohli and Rohit didn’t feature in Lanka, and earlier against England their highest scores were 66 and 37 respectively.

Virat Kohli’s problems

Players of West Indies celebrate the wicket of India's Virat Kohli, left, during the second round international cricket match between India and West Indies in Ahmedabad, India, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo /Ajit Solanki)

Virat Kohli hasn’t hit a century, in any form, since November 2019. AP

While Dhawan has shown some consistency and Rohit has missed a few games due to fitness issues, it’s Kohli’s form that is most worrying. Not hundreds since November 2019, off-field issues including run-ins with BCCI and poor form plagued by technical issues mean Kohli’s loss of form is unprecedented. He is going through the leanest period of his illustrious career, and that is now an understatement. Why? Because it’s not even a patch anymore, which has lasted for over two years now.

Every time Kohli comes into the crease, he seems distant. Almost as if he didn’t want to be there, not completely, and his mind was elsewhere. The off-field antics have clearly taken their toll on a player once possessed with boundless energy. This facet of his game seems to have dried up and he needs to rediscover not only his form but also his personality.

Maybe he needs a break from cricket. Just take some time, straighten your head and get back to playing. Indian cricket – especially when it comes to the 2023 ODI World Cup – will be lost without Kohli.

Is the intermediate order already sorted?

The lack of higher order races then has a cascading effect on the middle, and this is all too well known. The fact that Rahul and Iyer scored and Pant showed sparks of brilliance, all while striking down the middle, shows there is some method to this madness. And yet, questions still arise about the exact form India seeks to give to its intermediate order.

When India quickly lost Rohit and Kohli in the third ODI, Iyer came out at bat because southpaw Dhawan was still in the crease. If Rohit was still at bat, Pant would have been out, much like in South Africa. This left-right-left-right quickly becomes irritating. There is no set plan, no set role for Iyer and Pant, and they are pushed around at the whim of the think tank.

There may be an argument that mid-order floating beaters can serve various roles. But India’s ODI success over the past two decades was built when captains like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni had defined roles for particular batsmen in the middle order. They had no floats, like in the 2019 ODI World Cup. When the first order failed, what happened in Manchester? Did the floats save you?

Also, are there too many cooks making the same broth? At this point, India have Rahul, Iyer, Pant and Suryakumar Yadav vying for three places in the middle. That’s not even taking into account versatile bowlers like Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Hooda or even Hardik Pandya (if he starts bowling again). Yet another round has passed without India identifying its middle order, and time is running out.

Bowling saves the day

India's Prasidh Krishna, second from left, celebrates with his team mates the sacking of West Indies' Jason Holder during the third one day international cricket match between India and West Indies in Ahmedabad, India on Friday, February 11, 2022 .AP

India’s Prasidh Krishna, second from left, celebrates with his team mates the sacking of West Indies’ Jason Holder during the third one day international cricket match between India and West Indies in Ahmedabad, India on Friday, February 11, 2022 .AP

Let it be said here, the West Indian bowling attack dazzled in this series. Despite the 3-0 margin, they didn’t let India score comfortably, either chasing 170 or the fact that India never seemed to reach 300 while beating first. The differentiation between South Africa and West Indies here was batting strength, and if West Indies had a better batting formation at this layout, this series could have been much closer.

This, however, does not detract from the Indian bowling attack. When you don’t have 300 behind you, the pressure to take wickets only increases that much. Unlike South Africa, Indian bowlers had a strategically strong captain in Rohit behind them, and he made appropriate bowling changes to boost the likes of Prasidh Krishna and Washington Sundar.

Krishna is a good find due to the bounce he can get, but it will be interesting if he stays in contention when Jasprit Bumrah returns. With Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar vying for the versatile point guard spot, ‘who is Bumrah’s new ball partner’ will be a vital question going forward. Right now, Mohd. Siraj has this spot covered but Krishna can get ahead with consistent displays like in this series.

In the spin department, Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal are forging a new partnership. Ravindra Jadeja’s return will further impact that equation, but for now Sundar-Chahal needs time to thrive. Chahal also needs a strategically commanding leader to channel his bowling and the coming months could see his resurgence in India’s white ball plans. His best years were spent under the captaincy of Dhoni, and therefore the full-time captaincy of Rohit is good news for him.

The vital question regarding a sixth bowling option is still up in the air.

Overall, this ODI series will be remembered as one of the few bright spots, especially in the bowling department. But it also gave a lot of insightful insights into what India needs to do in their preparations for the 2023 ODI World Cup.

Many, it is the current sum!

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