The India-England One Day International (ODI) series turned out to be a sizzling contest: three exciting run chases, with India winning the rubber, but only just. With a little luck, and perhaps a shade better bowling, England may well have reversed the results.
There is little scope for ifs and buts in sports though. When two teams are evenly matched, the one able to arrest or exploit a crisis situation wins the day. England blew their opportunities while India made the most of them.
India’s batting performances were truly admirable—even in the defeat at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. In each of the three matches, early wickets were lost but every time a couple of batsmen rose to the occasion, showing resolve, competitiveness and derring-do in ample measure.
Virat Kohli, clearly India’s premier batsman, lived up to his mighty reputation. But it is the success of Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav that is perhaps more significant in the context of the Champions Trophy that will be played mid-year in England.
Singh silenced misgivings about his selection in scintillating style. He hasn’t looked fitter in the past six-seven years, his appetite for runs has grown and he seems intent on making up for lost time.
Dhoni’s selection was never in doubt. Rather, speculation was whether he would have the same zest after relinquishing the captaincy in limited-overs cricket. He appears to have made the transition smoothly, with no mental blocks.
In the clamour for youth, the value of experience is often obscured, sometimes with serious consequences. That India managed to bat England out of the series despite the openers failing in all three matches highlights this.
While the emphasis on having more young players is well-founded, the best teams have a judicious blend. Singh and Dhoni can provide heft and stability. How long they extend their careers, of course, depends on their fitness and motivation.
The most riveting batting performance came from Jadhav. He has a big heart and steel in his spine. I thought his 90 on a spicy Eden Gardens pitch—where the top order struggled—was even more impressive than the century at Pune.
While he may be a rookie at the international level, it is pertinent that the 31-year-old has been playing domestic cricket for over a decade.
Like Parthiv Patel in the Test series, Jadhav has highlighted that the hunt for players need not be restricted to youngsters.
These are stalwarts who make the domestic structure robust and sustainable, inspire and mentor younger players in Ranji, Duleep and other tournaments and can also deliver at the highest level—even if for a limited period of time.
On flat tracks and batsmen-friendly conditions, bowlers from both teams were under great duress, though it must be said that India wouldn’t have won the second match or England the third if they hadn’t bowled well in the death overs.
But this was pretty much against the general pattern of play and again raises concerns about whether—despite packed houses at all venues—this is at all good for the future of the game in India, and whether bowlers are not being blighted at the cost of fours and sixes.
A total of 2,090 runs were scored, the highest ever in a three-match series. While 300-plus totals are not uncommon in ODIs these days, I’m concerned about boundaries being pulled in 8-10 yards to allow for more big hits à la the Indian Premier League.
Dead pitches and modern bats have already weighted the game against bowlers. By shortening the boundary, what would have been a catch ends up being a six. It’s easier to score boundaries too since the ball has to travel a shorter distance.
This is exaggerating the prowess of batsmen and reducing bowlers to haplessness. The same batsmen, however, start getting exposed when playing on larger grounds. On the other hand, bowlers forced into a defensive mindset at home, find it difficult to reorient their skills playing overseas.
Where’s the real gain for Indian cricket in this?
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.