Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya heroics mask India’s batting frailties

With the gift of timing, Sourav Ganguly was quick to congratulate the Indian team after their 2-1 ODI series win against England. “Super performance in england ..not easy in their country ..2-2 test .win in T20 and one days..well done dravid ,rohit sharma,ravi shastri,virat kohli @bcci ..pant just special..so is pandu ..,” tweeted the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president.

About 10 days back, after the tourists had lost at Edgbaston and squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to win the Test series in England, a member of the erstwhile support staff responded with a folded hands emoji on WhatsApp to the observation that India probably would have won the fifth Test under Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, after dominating the game for the first three days. As England bounced back and started to revel in ‘Bazball’ in their fourth-innings chase of 378, India’s body language created scope for criticism and Shastri, on air, called it out.

At Edgbaston, a second-innings batting implosion cost India the game. But for Rishabh Pant’s class and Hardik Pandya’s brilliance at Old Trafford on Sunday, and also a missed stumping by Jos Buttler, batting vulnerability might have cost India the ODI series as well. The top order looked jittery in the second and the third ODIs.

A lack of middle-order resistance saw the tourists fold for 146 at Lord’s against England’s 246. A 133-run partnership between Pant and Pandya bailed India out from 72/4 at Old Trafford, at a time when the hosts were probably just one wicket away from securing the game and the series. Buttler’s missed stumping of Pant off Moeen Ali, when the southpaw was on 18 and India 70/3, proved to be the turning point of the game.

Poor report card

Here’s the report card of India’s top-order batting from the ODI series… Rohit Sharma, 93 runs from three matches, including a half-century. Shikhar Dhawan, 41 runs from three games. Virat Kohli, 33 runs from two matches. Suryakumar Yadav, 43 runs from two innings. Batting has been a concern for India and Rohit admitted it.

“We do understand that it is something we need to look into. We played some not-so-good shots and that’s what cost us wickets. But I still back those guys to come good because they have done it for a long time. I have got nothing more to say since I understand the quality they bring to the team,” the skipper said at the post-match presentation in Manchester.

Kohli’s elongated form slump has weakened India’s batting spine. In 20 ODI innings between 2020 and 2022, the former captain has scored 735 runs at an average of 36.75. In the previous three years, between 2017 and 2019, he had scored 4,039 runs at 79.19, including 17 centuries, in 65 innings. As Ganguly recently said, Kohli “has got to find his way” to score runs again; it’s totally up to the player to decide how to address the issue.

For reference, however, during his first tour of England in 1990, after he fell cheaply in both innings in the first Test at Lord’s, Sachin Tendulkar walked up to Sunil Gavaskar, requesting for advice. The latter’s suggestion was a one-liner: “In England, allow the ball to come to you.” Tendulkar scored a match-saving maiden hundred in the second Test at Old Trafford.

This paper reported yesterday, quoting Inzamam-ul-Haq, how another simple advice from Gavaskar helped the former Pakistan captain get rid of his discomfort against the short ball, during Pakistan’s tour of England in 1992.

Kohli is a great of the game in his own right and he has a mind of his own. He will decide his future course of action, but until the 33-year-old is regaining his big-scoring mojo, India’s batting will continue to be vulnerable, across formats. Rohit’s recent inconsistency with the bat has made matters complicated and with the T20 World Cup in Australia almost around the corner, the Indian team has a race against time to fix their batting woes.

Second seam all-rounder needed

Poor batting had nipped India’s T20 World Cup campaign in the bud last year in the UAE. Nine months down the line, the white-ball batting line-up is still searching for the right balance. Beyond Ravindra Jadeja at No. 7, the team’s batting is wafer-thin and any contribution from Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj or Prasidh Krishna is considered a bonus. In the ODI series, England batted right up to Craig Overton at No. 9. Pat Cummins comes at No. 9 for Australia in limited-overs cricket. All the other good white-ball sides have a meaty lower-order. So, from that perspective, India are short of another seam all-rounder who can complement Pandya.

“It’s a problem area. Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) did it for a long time, offering stability to lower-order batting. But he is not in the ODI squad now. In India, it’s not a problem, as they can play a spinner who bats, and there are many spin-bowling all-rounders. But when you are playing overseas, you need (another) seam-bowling all-rounder,” Shastri said on Sky Sports commentary yesterday, suggesting that the team management probably should have considered Shardul Thakur for the final ODI.

The next 50-over World Cup will be played in India. But the T20 World Cup on Australian pitches will pose a bigger challenge to an iffy batting line-up. And beyond Pandya’s versatility and Pant’s x-factor, the team needs to collectively rise to it.

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