After just two matches on their multi-format tour of Australia, it’s clear this India team won’t be able to emulate, let alone surpass, the achievements of the team that travelled Down Under in 2018-19.
After spilling the rain-hit Twenty20 International series 1-1, Virat Kohli’s men completed an unprecedented 2-1 Test series victory, then clinched the 50-over face-off by an identical margin to make it India’s most celebrated overseas outing ever.
Their crushing 51-run defeat in Sunday’s second One-Day International in Sydney now means India have surrendered the series at the first time of asking. Coming on the heels of Friday’s 66-run hammering, it extended their losing streak in ODIs to five matches; after bowing to New Zealand 3-0 in February, India are in danger of being whitewashed again unless they find a way past the Aussie juggernaut in Canberra on Wednesday.
This has been one of India’s most underwhelming years so far as 50-over performances are concerned. With just two wins from eight games, they have rolled the clock back, triggering unpleasant memories of the distant past when conservatism was their biggest enemy.
India have embraced a return to old-fashioned 50-over cricket in more ways than one. In an era where every team worth its salt is populated by multi-dimensional cricketers, the majority of the Indian squad is made up of batsmen only, or bowlers only. Hardik Pandya must build on Sunday’s surprise bowling appearance and give his captain at least a half-dozen overs in each fixture. Otherwise, no one in the top six can turn his arm over with any conviction; likewise, beyond Ravindra Jadeja, none of the bowlers inspires batting confidence.
India can point to their record until 2020 to argue the efficacy of their methods, but that is a double-edged sword. When the top order fires and the bowlers respond with penetration, they look a million dollars. But especially when their bowlers flounder, they are treated with such disdain by the opposition that even the neutrals wince at the unstaunched bleeding.
Inasmuch as cricket’s a team game, it’s not difficult to trace the genesis of India’s current predicament. India have leaked upwards of 300 runs five times in their eight appearances; in the last four such instances, they have been well beaten. Three of those scores read 348 for six (by New Zealand during a successful run-chase in Hamilton), and Australia’s twin efforts of 374 for six and 389 for four this series. That’s some serious damage inflicted on an attack with at least three proven match-winners – Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Crucially, no team has conceded more runs on an average to the opening wicket in a calendar year than India in 2020. The sequence started in India’s first outing of the in year, in January in Mumbai, when David Warner and Aaron Finch raced to 258 in just 37.4 overs on their way to a ten-wicket romp. While India managed to effect breakthroughs in the two remaining matches of that series, their woes started in New Zealand, and have reached alarming proportions over the last few days.
Openers Martin Guptill and Henry Nicholls put on 85, 93 and 106 in the three games in Kiwiland; now, Warner and Finch have added 156 and 142, contributing to the average opening partnership against this year reading a whopping 125.42.
The common thread to each of these meltdowns answers to the name of Jasprit Bumrah. And, unfair as it might sound, it’s at his feet that the reasons for the core of India’s problems rest. More precisely, at his right shoulder, arm, fingers and wrist.
Bumrah is a victim of his own lofty standards, but even by more mortal reckoning, he has been positively overwhelming in the ODI format in the last 11 months. Between dismissing Adam Zampa in Rajkot on January 17 and accounting for Finch on Friday, he went wicket-less for a staggering 282 deliveries – that’s a whopping 47 full overs, four full matches and a bit. Bumrah’s barren run began in Bengaluru against Australia, and straddled the length of the series in New Zealand; in five overseas games against the Kiwis and Aussies combined, he has figures of two for 319 for 50 overs. That’s an average of 159.5 runs and a strike-rate of 150 deliveries per wicket, and an economy of 6.38 runs per over. His corresponding career figures are 25.40, 32.6 and 4.66 respectively. Enough said.
Related news | Australia tour: Will India’s IPL flops rise Down Under?
It is, however, bizarre why Bumrah’s 50-overs numbers are in such decidedly stark contrast to returns in 20-over matches just preceding the ODIs. In New Zealand, for instance, he took six wickets in five T20Is, economy 6.45, leading up to the 50-over skirmishes. Prior to this series, he fuelled Mumbai Indians’ charge to an unparalleled fifth IPL crown by snaffling 27 wickets in 15 appearances (economy 6.73), quite the master of changes of pace, of the yorker and the slower and faster bouncers, a bundle of fluid grace and extraordinary rhythm, occasionally unplayable, always threatening. In Australia, like he had been across the Tasman Sea earlier in the year in the one-day games, he has looked out of sync, hesitant and uncertain, his execution all over the place, his 50-over mojo having seemingly deserted him.
His frustrations at his inability to match up to his own expectations have manifested themselves in not just Glenn McGrath-like self-sledging, but angry kicks at innocent, inanimate objects including the tiny orbs identifying the 30-yard circle. With the four-Test series – the most crucial component of the tour – less than three weeks away, India need their pace spearhead to be both firing on all cylinders, and at peace with his cricketing world. That’s the challenge ahead of bowling coach Bharat Arun, under whose tutelage India have assembled a world-class unit now steadily fraying at the edges. India can’t do without a potent, incisive, on-song Bumrah; if it’s this variant that keeps showing up, they are in for a very, very long Australian summer.