Rajkot lessons: Full-strength Australia lays bare India’s limitations
There were quite a few lessons for India to take home from Rajkot, where they endured a 66-run defeat at the hands of Australia in a dead-rubber game. For a series that has acted as a perfect preparation just before the World Cup, there have been plenty of positives for India. But on a day where Australia fielded their near full-strength team, India showed how their limitations in certain aspects could after all be the big difference that could stop them from being the favourites to lift a third World Cup title.
Their lack of depth in the batting and a one-dimensional attack in the middle-overs where a lot depends on Kuldeep Yadav, is already well documented. Right through their victorious Asia Cup campaign after starting off on a troublesome note, they managed to hide these holes. When everyone aces their roles to perfection, this Indian team can seamlessly enter a cruise mode, where they can roll over any opposition on any conditions barring one: The slow, two-paced nature of pitches, which continue to trouble their batting unit.
On days when their new ball pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami fails to find any movement off the air or from the pitch, their attack — which is without an off-spinner — can let the game slip in a matter of few overs should the conditions be on the flatter side and there is a left-hander at the top.
Thursday is the final day for India to make any changes to the 15-member squad for the World Cup. As things stand, India are yet to make up their mind whether to bring in an off-spinner in R Ashwin or stick to Axar Patel, who is recovering from a quadriceps injury. It is understood that Axar has a grade 1 tear and will take two weeks to fully recover, which means he should be fit by early next week. However, given the nature of the injury, there is a strong chance that it could be a recurring one as the team management is set to seek a medical report before making any decision. It is understood that the team management could wait till the weekend to see where Axar stands in terms of resuming his skill-based training.
Having put themselves in all sorts of situations before the World Cup, Rohit Sharma stuck to the plan as he decided to bowl first on a flat deck at Rajkot. Sans any movement, David Warner was quick off the blocks as Mitchell Marsh too picked up pace at the other end. As a result, Bumrah and Siraj leaked runs with the new ball. The domino effect of not getting wickets with the new ball is that it stops Rohit from using his trump card Kuldeep, who is known to attack in the middle-overs.
With runs flowing from both ends, he turned to restrictive options, with Prasidh Krishna, Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar all bowling ahead of Kuldeep. By the time the wrist-spinner came into bowl in the 24th over, Australia had already put on 176 on the board with two settled batsmen at the crease. By the 27th over, they had added 200 to the total.
But India managed to restrict Australia to 352/7, as Bumrah came back strongly in the third, fourth and fifth spells. Having conceded 51 runs of his first five overs, his remaining five overs cost only 30 runs. He also managed to pick up three wickets, including that of Glenn Maxwell via a near-perfect yorker. With short boundaries to make it worse, Rohit was judicious with his rotation of bowlers, also ensuring that Kuldeep’s confidence doesn’t take any dents as he let him bowl only six overs. Having chosen to hold Kuldeep back, Rohit managed to get economical spells from both Jadeja (0/61) and Washington (0/48) as India made a strong comeback.
Target beyond reach
While 352 did seem like a par total, with no dew factor to fall back on, India showed all the right intentions at the top. Without Shubman Gill, Rohit got India off to a strong start with Washington, as the skipper brought his fifty off 31 deliveries. Having seen Indian bowlers make a strong comeback by taking pace off the ball, Australia’s attack wasted no time to do the same. Then, it was Maxwell’s off-spinners that took care of India’s top four batsmen. Making a comeback to the team after an injury lay-off, Maxwell operated on the line of the stumps, varying the pace every now and then as Washington, Rohit, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer all fell to him after getting good starts.