Two three-match series that went all the way, quite literally. When the last over of the respective One-Day International and Twenty20 deciders were underway, a series win was well within the reach for New Zealand.
And India, after months of playing opponents who didn’t offer much resistance, were stretched by the talented Black Caps. It made for exciting cricket.
Over the space of these six matches, there were quite a few talking points that emerged from India’s point of view, starting with...
The middle-order question
Before the ODI series began, India had used an entire playing squad at the No 4 position in the past couple of years. Starting from Yuvraj Singh, going through the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, KL Rahul and finishing with Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav. While Jadhav didn’t do his case any good with a soft dismissal in Mumbai in the first ODI, Karthik enhanced his reputation with a solid half century in the second match that helped India level the series.
And both of them didn’t feature in the T20I series afterward, where Shreyas Iyer (among others) got a go.
With the next ODI series not scheduled for a month, it’ll be interesting to see if Karthik will back in to the XI again or whether the musical chair will continue based on what transpires during the Test series and the Ranji Trophy. Karthik has been here before. His good run in the West Indies was not rewarded with a place when the team was selected again for the Sri Lanka series, post the Test matches. All said and done, if the middle order (and specifically the No 4) was the biggest question facing Virat Kohli and the Indian team management, then the answer doesn’t seem any clearer.
Kohli has mentioned how Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have reaped the benefits of knowing they are going to make it to the playing XI more often than not, and thus have been able to execute plans much better. It’s time, perhaps, to extend the same logic to the middle order as well.
The MS Dhoni question
“If I fail three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I’m not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the fitness tests, he is contributing to the team in every way possible, tactically on the field, with the bat. If you look at the series against Sri Lanka and Australia, he did really well and in this series he hasn’t got much time to bat.”
Kohli, not surprsingly, made a passionate defence of his former captain after the series win against New Zealand in Thiruvananthapuram. The numbers will tell you that Dhoni finished the T20 series with the highest average and second best strike rate after Kohli among the Indian batsmen who played all three matches. Numbers will also tell you that his recent T20I numbers are not any different than his overall statistics since 2007.
But the question is whether his position in the team, when not being the captain, as a specialist wicket-keeper batsman is warranted when there are younger options available, who could be blooded in, given that the next World T20 isn’t until 2020, when he would be close to 40.
The argument supporting Kohli’s defence is that, given Dhoni is a near-certainty to make it to the ODI World Cup squad for 2019, playing him in the shortest format is just that extra amount of game time that he lacks these days.
Well, we can debate it all we want, but one gets the feeling the decision is ultimately Dhoni’s to make.
More on the Dhoni situation here.
The Jasprit Bumrah question
Man of the match in the T20I decider and man of the series as well. Deserved to be the man of the match in the ODI decider, but hey, a batsman scored 147 so he had to get the award, because that’s how cricket works, right? Bumrah has enhanced his reputation from being the best India had in the shorter formats to, perhaps, the best in the world right now in doing what he does.
So naturally, the next question was whether it was time for him to make his Test debut.
Bumrah, it’s worth remembering, is still only 23. Among the rich fast bowling options at Kohli’s disposal, Bumrah is the youngest. He is, also, uniquely suited to the shorter formats, with his repertoire of slower ones and yorkers. Of course, his new ball bowling has improved just like every other aspect of his bowling this season, as he showed in Kanpur in the third ODI, when Bhuvneshwar had a bad day at the other end, being taken apart by Colin Munro.
As we had written in these pages earlier, whether by design or fate, India now have two very different-looking sides for Tests and the limited-overs formats. And the results are there to see. The workload on the players has been reduced to manageable extents and except for Kohli and to an extent, Hardik Pandya, there is no one in the team in dire need of a rest. Bringing Bumrah into the Test XI would change that and the load on the youngsters valuable shoulders would instantly shoot up.
And it would also be a disservice to the efforts of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, who have been magnificent with the red ball in India’s march to No 1 in Tests, if either of them have to make way for Bumrah in the high-stakes series against South Africa. The youngster from Baroda has played just 26 first class matches for Gujarat and would be better off, in the short term, honing his red ball skills here, before his inevitable inclusion in the Test squad.
The spinner question
Chahal in the ODI series: 3 matches, 28 overs, 134 runs, 4 wickets, Average 33.50, RR 4.78
Chahal in the T20I series: 3 matches, 10 overs, 70 runs, 3 wickets, Average 23.33, RR 7.00
While Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav took turns to occupy the second spinner’s slot, Chahal went ahead and established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet. His two overs in the final T20I, in an 8-over shootout, went for eight runs. EIGHT. Chahal brought in all his IPL experience, and produced two overs of top defensive leg-spin bowling, using the crease to vary his angles and keeping the ball out of the batsmen’s reach.
Axar and Kuldeep impressed in patches, and murmurs over whether either of them is good enough to keep Ravindra Jadeja out of the limited overs side are beginning to crop back up, the selectors have been vindicated in quote-unquote resting their two premier Test spinners.