GAME PLAN: Not just Kohli’s battle

Jaideep Ghosh

Ranchi: New Zealand players look on as Captain of Indian cricket team Mahendra Singh Dhoni leaves in a car upon his arrival at Birsa Munda International Airport, Hinoo in Ranchi, Oct 24, 2016. Photo - PTI

Ranchi: New Zealand players look on as Captain of Indian cricket team Mahendra Singh Dhoni leaves in a car upon his arrival at Birsa Munda International Airport, Hinoo in Ranchi, Oct 24, 2016.
Photo – PTI

The focus at Ranchi was more on where Mahendra Singh Dhoni lives, or what he drives, with special emphasis on what cars he has in his stable. It was quite interesting to see the New Zealand cricketers hang out of the windows of their bus to gawk at Dhoni’s super ride. They must have been left wondering if they were all playing the same sport.

But they do indeed, and when it came down to the actual game, Dhoni’s lightning speed fleet was left floundering, as the skipper got a poor 11 off 31 balls and was castled comprehensively thereafter.

Quite the damp squib, after all the hype about how Dhoni, playing at home, would speed past the New Zealanders and clinch the series for India.

Quite fascinating, these One-day International series played in India. How a five-match series always goes into the last game at 2-2. Or a three-match contest enters the final phase all square. All above board of course (no pun intended). After all, they are all honourable men.

But it does no harm at all to either the Board of Control for Cricket in India (run by said honourable men) and the broadcasters, if the matches go “down to the wire”, to quote one of the board’s favourite commentators.

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Anyhow, the fact remains that the series is still wide open. We would like to think that it will be sealed in India’s favour in the last game, but stranger things can happen when you leave the door ajar. Especially after the visitors have been rather hospitable in their efforts.

This whole ‘Kohli or bust’ attitude to batting isn’t going to help, particularly when you will soon be up against the English, who are going to be yards ahead of the Kiwis in terms of a challenge. That is India’s toughest test and India aren’t looking too prepared for taking to the next set of visitors, in terms of batting at least.

There is a lot being said about the openers Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Rahane is good, but he will never be great. Sharma is sensational, but only when India are batting first. Unfortunately, even that hasn’t quite emerged quite true in this series. He has been found out time and again by Trent Boult and Matt Henry. Way too frequently.

So it is always one-drop Virat Kohli who is in the thick of things and the day he goes cheaply, which at times is still better than what many of the rest are offering, we have trouble.

As was the case in Ranchi.

Cricket-MS-DhoniKohli quite an incredible player, with all the signs of becoming one of India’s greats in the years to come. But he is battling alone practically. He and Dhoni had a great partnership earlier in the series, but that had become remarkable more in its rarity than its quality.

It’s quite a far cry from the Test series. Kohli, as captain, had put faith in Sharma in the Tests too, but with all due respect to the Mumbai batsman, he just hasn’t been consistent enough.

Quite a surprise that, coming from a fellow who has two double centuries in the ODI format. Additionally, the rest haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory too. With an emphasis on all-rounders, the pure batsmen in the side are few, and neither Rahane nor Manish Pandey have really put aside all worries.

This series is about to end and New Zealand, for all their grit and fight in the ODIs, were quite a disaster in the Tests. Even their win in Delhi in the second one-dater had come after a gap of 13 years! But the next came within ten days. So they are leaving India on a high.

This leaves us waiting for the English with quite a few questions to answer.

The all-rounders are also a little bit of a mystery. Axar Patel will surely make way for Ravindra Jadeja in the next series, while the likes of Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav too will have anxious moments. Amit Mishra would definitely feel a little aggrieved if he is left to carry drinks once Ravichandran Ashwin is recalled, but that is how the cookie crumbles for him. Ashwin is the number one spinner for India, that’s it.

But still, it is the batting which will worry. India have been quite efficient in the field and with the ball, so as New Zealand offer rather modest targets and then we see the Indian batting fold, one tends to wonder what is the alternative.

It is not a bad problem to have, since it gives you the opportunity to field players who can be tested in real-time matches and then create data bank of players who can be used.

Cricket is getting a little frivolous off the field when it comes to the broadcasters, while it is getting quite serious at the administrative level, with the ongoing battle between the BCCI and the Supreme Court.

It is a time when the on-field warriors have to keep the faith alive. They are, after all, the ones who keep most of the Indian sports followers smiling.

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