The Indian ODI juggernaut rolls on. The Men in Blue secured yet another series win – their 12th in the last 13 bilateral contests, and sixth in seven away from home – a 4-1 victory in their five-match series in New Zealand.
The final away assignment before the World Cup served as an audition ground for the few uncertain roles in the squad, and clinching the series early on by winning the opening three games allowed India room to try out different combinations.
Hardik Pandya returned from suspension to show just what the team was missing in his absence, but India’s biggest gain was Mohammed Shami – who jointly topped the wicket-taking charts for the visitors.
However, the middle-order puzzle – a constant concern over the recent past – remains unresolved to some extent, with none of the potential suitors putting their hands up tellingly.
The Quint rates how India’s players fared in New Zealand:
Rohit Sharma: 6/10
(169 runs @ 33.80, strike rate 71.61, two 50s)
A rare series without a hundred for India’s man for the big innings, with half-centuries in the second and third games papering over low scores through the rest of the contest.
Sharma’s average of 33, and a strike rate just over 70, were both well below par – and far from what one has become acustomed to seeing from the 31-year-old.
It’s not as if he was troubled by a particular bowler. Five different Kiwi players accounted for the Indian opener in the five ODIs.
A failure to cross three figures ended a run of 10 straight series/tournaments where Sharma had hit at least one century, with his last 100-less series, incidentally, having come against New Zealand at home in October 2016.
His captaincy in the fifth ODI, though, earns an extra half a point. Sharma has come in for ample praise for the way he utilises his bowlers for Mumbai Indians in the IPL; having had nothing to play with at Hamilton, Sharma rotated his attack adroitly at Wellington. Particularly impressive was his handling of Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav.
A steady captain-in-waiting whenever Kohli is unavailable.
Shikhar Dhawan: 6/10
(188 runs @ 47.00, strike rate 81.73, two 50s)
Started the series rather impressively, with an unbeaten 75 in the opener at Napier followed by a steady 66 at Mount Maunganui, but fizzled out from there on.
The second ODI also witnessed a 154-run opening stand along with Sharma, but with partnerships of 41, 39, 21 and 8 in the other games, India’s usually prolific opening duo didn’t enjoy its best hour in recent times.
The evidence from the last two games, at Hamilton and Wellington, suggest Dhawan’s troubles in tackling the swinging ball are yet to be completely tackled with, and present an area for the 33-year-old to work upon.
Virat Kohli: 7/10
(148 runs @ 49.33, strike rate 83.14, one 50)
It says something about his astronomical run-making in the 50-over game that scores of 45, 43 and 60 represent a below-average return for the Indian skipper. Such is the ‘downside’ to averaging nearly 60 in the format.
For Kohli, quite like Sharma, even a smaller run of games without a hundred wears the look of an anomaly; since the end of the 2015 World Cup, he has surpassed three figures at least once in 10 out of 15 series/tournaments he has been part of.
As captain, there was little to fault the 30-year-old. Such was India’s dominance in the opening stretch of the series that Kohli was able to embark on his ‘leave’ after three matches with yet another victory added to a burgeoning CV – among captains who have led their teams in more than 30 ODIs, Kohli is one of only six men to boast a win percentage above 70 (at 76.61%, he is second only to legendary West Indian skipper Clive Lloyd).
Shubman Gill: 2/10
(16 runs @ 8.00, strike rate 50.00)
A trial by fire for India’s latest batting prodigy. Gill’s swift elevation into the ODI setup may have been partly aided by the limbo presented by KL Rahul’s suspension, but that wasn’t to say he didn’t merit a call-up – an average of 104 for India U-19, nearly a thousand runs in nine first-class games, a 50+ average in one-dayers overseas.
The 19-year-old’s initiation into the XI, as India’s 227th ODI cap, however, proved to be a difficult one as part of an Indian team which found itself at 35/6 and 18/4.
Having walked out at No. 3 on debut at Hamilton, Gill encountered a fiery Trent Boult, in the middle of a hostile 10-over burst which India’s batsmen had no answer to. He even copped up on his helmet, and while you felt for the youngster in the fourth ODI, Gill had only himself to blame on his second appearance, spooning a catch to cover with his feet going nowhere.
Gill had happy memories from his last trip to New Zealand, being the Player of the Tournament during India’s U-19 World Cup triumph. He returns home this time hoping his next chance comes soon.
Ambati Rayudu: 7.5/10
(190 runs @ 63.33, strike rate 82.25, one 50)
The 90 in the series finale at Wellington was by no means Rayudu’s finest knock while wearing the India blue – but it could be the one that ensures he dons the jersey in England this summer.
Kohli’s absence, coupled with rare top-order duds, provided the 33-year-old not one but two bites at the World Cup cherry. Having thrown the chance away recklessly at Hamilton, Rayudu did not repeat the same mistake the second time around.
His 113-ball 90 was composed, confident and well-crafted – ideal ingredients of that ideal No. 4 India have been on a four-year search for.
There were a couple of 40s, too, earlier on in the twin rubbers at Mount Maunganui. While areas of concern still remain, most notably around fielding and fitness, Rayudu appears likelier by the day to be part of India’s 15-man squad for the second World Cup running.
Dinesh Karthik: 5/10
(38 runs @ 38.00, strike rate 92.68, five catches)
A two-match sample to illustrate the frustrating exhibit that is Dinesh Karthik’s India career.
The first of the two games he got in MS Dhoni’s injury-enforced absence saw Karthik provide an example of how he fits the No. 6/finisher role in the Indian setup, as he calmly polished off a gettable chase with a typically busy 38 not out.
The second was bad Karthik trumping good Karthik: a top-order debacle meant there was time and more to play a spot-cementing innings, only for the seasoned ‘keeper to grab a three-ball duck.
Five catches in two outings show why he’s second in line to Dhoni with the gloves, but where Rayudu pounced upon his chance with the bat, Karthik didn’t.
MS Dhoni: 7/10
(49 runs @ 49.00, strike rate 125.64, two stumpings)
The rare occurrence of Dhoni sitting out two games with an injury, but there’s only so much a 37-going-on-38 body can do.
Having silenced all doubters with a virtuoso Man-of-the-Series display in Australia, the former captain got only two chances with the bat – and they were contrasting stints.
Carrying the confidence from his finishing acts against the Aussies, Dhoni stroked a fluent 48 not out off 33 balls in the second ODI to propel India’s innings at the death. He then fell to a ‘jaffa’ from Boult in the final game on his return to the team.
With the gloves, he continued to be as sprightly as the 20-somethings positioning themselves as his successors: effecting a Dhoni-esque micro-second stumping off Kedar Jadhav at Mount Maunganui, and stunning James Neesham with a sharp run-out at Wellington.
Kedar Jadhav: 6/10
(57 runs @ 28.50, strike rate 91.93, three wickets @ 34.33, economy 5.42)
How do you go about rating a batting all-rounder who ended up providing more telling contributions with the ball than the bat?
Jadhav returned 57 runs from three innings – not at all the desired return from a designated finisher – but his three wickets over the five matches were Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson.
The last two of his breakthrough came at critical junctures in the respective games, and that’s why the stocky No. 6 is likely to hold on to his place despite the lack of runs.
None of the other batsmen in the Indian team (even taking into consideration the players on the fringes) can turn an arm over. Jadhav’s ‘lesser’ skill, hence, serves as a vital go-to for Kohli and the team management.
They will wish for more from his primary stock, though, in the upcoming ODIs at home against Australia.
Hardik Pandya: 8/10
(61 runs @ 30.50, strike rate 145.23, four wickets @ 27.50, economy 5.23)
Having paid for his wrongdoings away from the field (and facing potential further reprimand), the all-rounder did little wrong on his return to the field.
He announced his comeback from suspension with the catch of the series, and showcased the finishing flair India long for with a decisive 22-ball 45 in the final ODI at Wellington.
Arguably the most promising of his contributions though came with the ball. At Mount Maunganui, in the third game, Pandya completed his full quota of overs for only the 11th time in a career now spanning 45 ODIs.
He ended with 2/45 in 10 overs of controlled bowling, and followed it up with two more strikes in the fifth ODI.
His electric presence in the field, and the automatic return of balance to the setup show why his team couldn’t wait for his off-field shenanigans to finish.
Vijay Shankar: 5/10
(45 runs @ 45.00, strike rate 70.31, 0 wickets, economy 5.50)
At 28, he isn’t very young by the standards of a newcomer in international cricket. That wealth of experience, and weight of runs, in domestic cricket, was evident in his patient 45 to revive the Indian innings along with Rayudu at Wellington. That it was the first time he batted in ODI cricket makes it all the more worthy of appreciation.
Hasn’t displayed the same composure with the ball, however, and will find it tough to be part of India’s final shortlist for the World Cup.
(Unfortunate to not have anything in the wickets column; saw Jadhav drop a sitter from Kane Williamson in the first ODI.)
Yuzvendra Chahal: 8/10
(9 wickets @ 24.33, economy 5.34)
Made the trip across the Trans-Tasman with a spring in his step following a career-best, record-breaking 6/42 in the series-decider in Australia, and continued to make in-roads along with his wrist-spin partner Kuldeep Yadav.
The consistency of returns was the most pleasing aspect about the 28-year-old leggie’s performance – Chahal picked up two wickets apiece in each of the first three games, before saving his series-best for the final game, where he bowled without his spin-twin at the other end.
Also managed to do the unthinkable: top-scoring in an innings by making 18 as India folded abjectly at Hamilton.
Speaking of the spin twins, India’s ‘Kul-Cha’ reached the landmark of 100 wickets as a pair in ODIs over the course of the series, in a dangerously fast 25 innings.
Kuldeep Yadav: 8/10
(8 wickets @ 15.62, economy 4.31, two 4-fors)
Left the Kiwi lineup clueless at the start of the series, taking all his eight wickets in the first two matches with four-fors at both Napier and Mount Maunganui.
That he didn’t take any wickets in the remaining two games he played continues a somewhat nervy trend of teams reading him better as a series goes along, akin to what had happened earlier in Australia and England.
But he already has five four-wicket hauls outside Asia – level with Anil Kumble among all Indian spinners in ODIs – and with the format of the World Cup only allowing a maximum of two games against a particular opponent, India won’t be too fussed about how well teams eventually begin to pick him.
Mohammed Shami: 9/10
(9 wickets @ 15.33, economy 4.75)
The Man of the Series, the star of the show and the biggest winner from the contest.
Ahead of the twin series in Australia and New Zealand, Shami appeared to be locked in a tussle with Khaleel Ahmed for the back-up seamer’s spot in the Indian World Cup squad.
Seven subsequent matches have brought 14 wickets, at a top-notch strike rate of 25.1 – Kohli and the think-tank are now going to find it difficult to keep him out of the playing XI.
Shami delivered the breakthroughs with great regularity with the new ball, and remains one of few effective exponents of reverse swing in the 50-over game.
The option of fielding three out-and-out pacers at the World Cup is a very real one for India now.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: 7.5/10
(7 wickets @ 24.42, economy 5.00)
Such was Shami’s prowess that Kumar – India’s senior-most bowler in the format – might well be fretting about his berth in the XI once Jasprit Bumrah is back in action.
But competition for spots only holds the best teams in good stead, and Kumar held his own even as his fellow pacer shone brightly.
He held one over Martin Guptill for the length of the series, and was disciplined with new ball and old.
Loses half a point for a dip in batting numbers; once considered a potential all-rounder, Kumar’s lower-order runs have dried up in the recent past, evidenced by a meagre seven runs from two innings in New Zealand.
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