They were on a high after decimating the Proteas at home in the recently-concluded Test series, spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are again facing questions about their effectiveness outside the sub-continent after India’s loss in the first ODI against Australia at Perth on Tuesday.
While bowlers can have their bad days, the manner in which Australian captain Steve Smith and George Bailey toyed with the duo scoring bulk of the 139 runs that they gave away in 18 overs makes one feel Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be a bit worried.
Dhoni had spoken about the need for his five-bowler attack to come good, since there is a lack of part-time bowlers in this current squad.
When Rohit Sharma was deployed in the 12th over of the Australian run-chase, ahead of the two regular spinners, it became obvious that the captain was testing waters for his current crop of batsmen to bowl a few overs if needed.
Smith and Bailey responded in kind, attacking the spinners, Rohit included. The latter admitted that it was a ploy on their part, since the Indian pacers had not given them any leeway.
It was a moment of truth for Dhoni, who places a lot of faith in his spinners. And his worst fears regarding the bowling attack’s composition were realized thereafter. Both Ashwin and Jadeja proved inadequate on an unhelpful pitch.
“I never thought it will be the spinners who will have a very bad day and the others will have to share that responsibility,” said a dejected Dhoni after the loss.
“When I had spoken about (part-timers) sharing the load, I had talked about one of the fast bowlers having a bad day.”
The pacers had given a tight start, something India had been searching for in their last series against South Africa at home. The last ODI at Mumbai comes into the picture here, when the whole attack was taken apart at will by the Proteas’ batsmen.
With changes in the nature of pitches across the spectrum, and rule changes every season, the limited-overs formats are heavily skewed against the bowlers.
Particularly, the Indian bowlers then need to come up with some answers, when they will be facing pitches that afford no assistance to them, a problem that has cropped up too often for comfort.
For pacers, that challenge lies at home. For the spinners, who were recently celebrated for their superb showing in the subcontinent, it lies in these overseas trips.
“I think since T20 has come in, the way people play has changed. You can’t think that if you score lots of runs you’ll win the match. We had scored 400-plus against Sri Lanka in Rajkot and then won by one or two runs in the end. Cricket has changed quite a lot and with it batsmen’s stroke-making ability has changed.
“They take on fielders at long on and long off as well, and that’s good because there is risk involved. But the spinners need to be clever enough to not get hit in areas with no fielders,” opined Dhoni, despite reflecting that the 310-run target should have been enough to win the first ODI.
Going ahead then, India will be looking to boost their bowling prowess ahead of the second ODI in Brisbane. There will be some line-up tinkering for the team management to ponder over, with Gurkeerat Mann highlighted as the only all-rounder (that too a spinner) in the squad.
It puts some spotlight on what the skipper makes of Rishi Dhawan, but it is a long series to find an answer to that question.
Right now, the pressing need ought to be exerting some control on the Australian innings, and in that light, Ishant Sharma could hold the key.
“Ishant Sharma had a finger injury (ahead of the first ODI), but he was available for selection. But there was also the chance that if he got hit again on the same finger, he could have missed the next four games.
“He was available, but it was better off to not play him and not to take that extra risk in this game,” the captain had said, hinting at the fast bowler’s return in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Australia has made a couple of changes to their squad as well. Vice-captain David Warner has gone on paternal leave, with in-form Usman Khawaja drafted in for both the next two matches.
Mitchell Marsh has also been given an extra couple days off, and as such he will be absent from the Brisbane ODI. He will join up with the squad in Melbourne ahead of the third ODI, while John Hastings will fill-in for him in the short-term.