IS THE INDIAN TEAM MISSING VIRAT KOHLI?

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Overconfidence to experiments, dissecting Indian cricket team’s shocking display

In a Virat Kohli-less India team, it was surprising to see Ajinkya Rahane’s name missing from playing XI in the first ODI against Sri Lanka – even when experiments have looked the norm in recent times. (INDIA vs SRI LANKA FULL COVERAGE)

At the HPCA Stadium here, it took just two overs for Rahane’s absence to be felt. That was how long Sri Lanka took to hand the hosts the first jolt. A noisy crowd was silenced as Shikhar Dhawan was adjudged leg before off Angelo Mathews via DRS.

If the star opener’s dismissal silenced the home fans, what followed left them in shock. A team of talented players, eyeing to become world beaters, crumbled in conditions aiding swing with bounce on offer.

(Read | Dharamsala ODI loss versus Sri Lanka an eye-opener, says skipper Rohit Sharma)

In the space of 27 runs, India lost six more wickets. Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Manish Pandey, debutant Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were flummoxed as Sri Lanka bowlers breathed fire in seaming conditions.

Experimentation group

Karthik, Pandey, Iyer and Pandya belong to the ‘experimentation group’ in the Indian cricket team. They are still on trial as India zero in on the core group for the World Cup.

(Read | Toss win, Jasprit Bumrah’s no-ball ‘massive moments’: Sri Lanka coach Nic Pothas)

However, in its eagerness to give the younger lot a longer run to prove themselves, the team management seems to be giving less importance to proper planning.

Just consider this. On the eve of the match, Dhawan was suffering from fever while Kedar Jadhav, a regular in the Indian team for the last one year, was ruled out with injury. And this team does not have its most consistent performer – Virat Kohli.

(Read | India in for shock treatment by Sri Lanka, crash to lowest ever ODI powerplay score)

In such a scenario, Iyer was given his maiden ODI cap. Before the team-sheet arrived, most thought the three-T20-old batsman would be in the middle order. But what Rahane, who scored four straight half-centuries in India’s last home ODI series against Australia, was left out.

India’s experienced top order has done the bulk of the work in building an enviable record at home, but the team management experimented here too. All this while knowing one of the openers was not fully fit while the other had the extra burden of leading the team.

Stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma justified Rahane’s exclusion.

(Read | BCCI seeks to tweak home cricket schedule to lure broadcasters)

“We made it clear in Sri Lanka that he (Rahane) is an opening batsman and we don’t want to keep changing his batting slot. It plays on anyone’s mind, not just his, if one’s batting order is kept on changing. Having said that we understand the runs he scored in the past few series. We have identified him as a top-order batsman,” he said after the match.

Pace terror

Still, India’s choice to go with the younger lot would have been justified but for how the batsmen tackled bounce as well as the line bowled by the Sri Lankan fast bowlers.

Four Indian batsmen either edged to slip or wicketkeeper while four others failed to deal with the line and seam movement of the fast bowlers, falling lbw or bowled. Pacers accounted for eight of the 10 Indian wickets. Suranga Lakmal took four for 13.

(Read | India vs Sri Lanka: MS Dhoni stands tall amid ruins with 67th half-century)

The bounce in the pitch and mountain breeze made for a deadly combination at Dharamsala. But for batsmen due to travel to South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand in the New Year, being able to tackle such conditions is a primary requirement.

Facing questions

It is too early to take the current crop of batsmen to task after failing in one match, but after such a performance, questions are bound to be asked. Especially, when the next few months will see them playing on challenging conditions and against more quality bowlers.

The Sri Lanka series is seen as ‘preparation’ for the South Africa tour – the first Test starts on Jan 5. The performance in Dharamsala will give them a reality check.

May be they can take a cue from how the senior-most member – MS Dhoni – performed. Sensing the crisis, he refrained himself from risk-taking in the beginning, and at the end went for big shots when there were only tail-enders at the other end.

Younger players will continue to get more opportunity in the future, with the team deciding to give them an extended run. But learning from such experiences can only help them play in all conditions.

SOURCE – HINDUSTAN TIMES

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