Close-In: On a roll

Australia were demolished very convincingly by the exuberant Indian team in the recently concluded ODI series. One expected the visitors to give hosts India a tough fight, especially after Australia won the ODI World Cup two years ago.

The Australian side comprised players who have been part of the Indian Premier League (IPL). So one assumed them to be accustomed with the wickets, environment and crowd. These factors have caused the downfall of many touring sides earlier. However, with two IPL captains in Steve Smith and David Warner, plus IPL regulars like Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell in their fold, Australia looked a formidable side that could give India run for their money.

But India played with immense confidence. Even when the team was in trouble, a gallant knight stood out, coming out with flying colours. The superstar was Man of the Series Hardik Pandya, in whom India have found a champion all-rounder. Pandya has the flare of the great Kapil Dev, but possesses better technique as a batsman. Although he is a decent bowler, Pandya needs to hone his skills further to be seriously taken as a front-line seamer. Luckily, he is still young to not only increase his pace further, but also to learn the art of moving and cutting the ball at will. He is like a rough diamond that needs to be polished, and under the guidance of Ravi Shastri, one can assume that a full programme must be already in place. Indian batting proved to be a joy to watch. Rohit Sharma can easily be classified as the most elegant batsman in world cricket now. The ease and class with which he plays his shots on both sides of the wicket is simply amazing. The hard working Ajinkya Rahane rubbed shoulders with Rohit at the top of the order. As an Indian fan, it was a treat to watch the two openers systematically destroying the Australian bowling attack. Virat Kohli too contributed as a batsman, besides proving to be a dynamic leader who always seems to be in control.

The most interesting aspect of the series was when India, rather than going for a 5-0 whitewash, decided to rest some of the main players to give the reserves a game in the fourth ODI at Bangalore. The seriousness with which India is preparing can be gauged through these changes in team selection. Rather than emerging victorious and achieving short-term success, they are much more focused on a bigger target, which is the 2019 World Cup. The think tank of the team management and the selection committee seems to be synchronising well together.

While it was heartening to see all the players doing their bit whenever required, the bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah was simple outstanding. They may not be the quickest, but their ability to bowl yorkers and reverse swing the ball has made Kumar and Bumrah exciting prospects, especially in the death overs. India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun should be given a pat on his back for churning out a battery of competent quick bowlers whom the team can rotate, even in the midst of a series.

Another player to catch the eye was Kedar Jadhav. The Maharashtra player has a very astute cricketing brain. The most difficult task for a batsman in the present Indian side is to establish himself in the middle-order. One requires skills of the highest order to perform consistently and maintain his position. Batting to save the team from a debacle after a top order collapse requires smart, calm and technically correct batsmanship. And Jadhav has shown that he has all those qualities in the recent series. His ability to play in an innovative and aggressive manner at the end of the team’s innings with five fielders in the deep requires some skill.

The surprise package, however, has been Jadhav’s off spin bowling. He did not have a first-class wicket to his name before bowling for India. One has to praise Kohli for having faith in Jadhav’s bowling abilities. The lower trajectory release seems to be regularly bewildering some of the best batsmen in the world.

However, the real nemesis for the Australian batsmen was India’s wrist spinner duo  — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Yadav’s Chinaman bowling and Chahal’s leg-spin/googly completely baffled the Australian batsmen. One has to admire the way the two bowled, as Australian cricket too is not short of such bowlers. They boast of some of the greatest wrist spinners in Clarrie Grimmett, Richie Benaud, Shane Warne and even the evergreen Chinaman Brad Hogg. So to have the Australian batsmen all at sea was a remarkable achievement. India are now at the top of the ICC rankings, both in Test and ODI. It would be a matter of great pride if they can also climb atop the T20 table. The hunt for that begins today, when India take on Australia at Ranchi in the first game of the three-match T20 series.

(The author is a former India cricketer)

Yajurvindra Singh