Published on February 16th, 2018 | by Suraj Choudhari0
India’s misfiring middle-order the only puzzle
“India have a great potential in the middle-order, there is firepower as well as experience but cannot afford to rely on the top. The move to bat Ajinkya Rahane at four has not paid off really well barring the Durban game. Rahane gets stuck when it comes to rotating the strike, which is pivotal while batting in the middle”.
India have been a force to be reckoned in white ball cricket, beating best of the sides in the recent times. They have been a champion side and inspired confidence as a unit. It is often said, scaling new height is tough, but survival is toughest. For any side to remain at the apex, it is pivotal for all the departments to click and keep firing. This ensures that the pressure is equally absorbed and there is no over-reliance on any department.
With a convincing victory at Port Elizabeth, India took an unassailable lead of 4-1 in the six-match series and registered their first ever ODI series win on the South African soil. Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan’s pristine form and Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal’s brilliance with the ball have been the main reasons behind India’s dominance over South African in their backyard.
Kohli has led the run-charts with a staggering 429 runs in his basket followed by Dhawan’s 305 runs while Kuldeep and Chahal have scalped 16 and 14 wickets respectively. The wrist-spinners have hogged all the headlines while Kohli-Dhawan have been unstoppable.
While most of the units have fired with all cylinders, India’s middle-order has been silent. This can cause a headache in the long-run. One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that, Kohli and Dhawan’s form has camouflaged the flaw India’s middle-order in this series. As long as the runs are flowing from the top, the failure of the middle-order will hardly make a difference, but India’ can’t afford to bank on them so heavily.
In the Port Elizabeth encounter, India looked all set to cross the 300-run mark, but couldn’t. An out of form Rohit Sharma rediscovered his mojo and smashed his 17th ODI ton and took on a pumped South African attack with immense confidence. At 236 for 3 inside 43 overs, it was evident that India were on track to achieve a massive total, but it wasn’t to be. Another failure of the middle-order saw them being restricted to 274 for 7 in 50 overs.
This was not the first time when India stumbled in the middle in this series and didn’t achieve a well-deserved total. In the fourth game at Johannesburg, India were well placed at 206 for 3 inside 36 overs. Going by the current standards, India should have exceeded 330-run mark, but managed just 289 for 7 in 50 overs.
In the series so far, Ajinkya Rahane at four has garnered 106 runs in four innings while Hardik Pandya has 26 runs in as many innings. MS Dhoni has scored 69 runs in four innings and has not looked in best of touches so far. Kedar Jadhav batted just once after being ruled out due to injury whereas judging Shreyas Iyer would be too harsh. India’s middle-order has scored just 250 runs in the series at a poor average of 20.83 while the top-order has scored 889 runs at an astounding average of 74.08.
Former Indian cricketer Mohinder Amarnath also spotted the weak link in India’s armour in his column in TOI. “The Indian middle order is still a bit of worry for me. So far, they have not really come to terms with the opponents, and the worry is that if the top-order fails, then what will happen? They need to be more consistent so that they can take the responsibility on themselves, should the situation demand,” Amarnath wrote in TOI.
India have a great potential in the middle-order, there is firepower as well as experience but cannot afford to rely on the top. The move to bat Ajinkya Rahane at four has not paid off really well barring the Durban game. Rahane gets stuck when it comes to rotating the strike, which is pivotal while batting in the middle. Although his presence assures stability in the middle, but he needs to find a way to endure fewer dot deliveries. The No.4 spot has been for the grab for a while now and Rahane should look to grab this opportunity with both the hands and cement his spot.
The troika of Jadhav, Dhoni and Pandya looks intimidating on paper but hasn’t got going in the series so far. Although Jadhav batted only in one game before getting injured, but Dhoni and Pandya have failed to weave magic with the bat. Most of the middle-order batsmen has struggled to get going, which any team can’t afford. They cannot have 2-3 out of form batsman in a cluster. Dhoni’s sluggish strike-rate has slowly started getting attention, which is not a good sign.
India does have options in Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. Iyer got starts in two games but didn’t really convert while Pandey is yet playing in this series. It will be interesting to see if India test their bench strength in the final encounter. Although middle-order’s poor run has not cost them dearly in the series, but they need to step up and ease the pressure from the top-order. The final ODI will be played at Centurion.