The victory plucked from the jaws of defeat in the final one-day international against Pakistan on January 6 was meant to be the right tonic for India’s revival before the first ball was bowled in the India vs England ODI series in Rajkot on Friday. And the hosts came excitingly close to overhauling England’s massive 325-run total.
Dhoni shouldn’t be too disappointed because there are some positive points. His team has some very good fielders in Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma and some fresh, young swing bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed. There is good reason to look forward to a winning performance in Tuesday’s game in Kochi.
The wicket at the new stadium in Rajkot made bowling quite irrelevant. One could play across and runs would flow quite freely without the bounce being a concern. Talking about runs, it must be said that Saurashtra is the land of Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji, who learnt their skills at the famous Rajkumar College in Rajkot. India’s official captain on the first Test tour to England in 1932 — the Maharaja of Porbander — and the vice-captain Ghanshyam Singh of Limbdi were all products of the same school which I am privileged to be an alumnus of.
The wicket was a beauty on Friday and for England, winning the toss was important as they could bat on a good, fresh wicket and field in a much cooler temperature. The Indian players seemed much more committed with the fielding being agile and lively. The Indian bowlers were mauled by the English batsmen led by openers — captain Alastair Cook (75) and Ian Bell (85) — who put on 158. In contrast, the Indian openers, Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane (96-run partnership in 17 overs) did not look menacing, but their supple glides and placements gave India a good start before they threw away their wickets.
Ravichandran Ashwin had a forgettable match with his nine overs not resulting in any wickets. He conceded 61 runs, seemed to have lost his turn, rhythm and direction. His jerky, stop and bowl tactics is a big concern. The England spinners bowled faster and accurately without much variation and this proved effective, especially in the case of James Tredwell.
In my opinion, Samit Patel’s runs in the last few overs made a big difference. The Indian batting faltered as none of the set batsmen were able to convert their half centuries into a big score. Dhoni did usher in hope with some stupendous hitting, but his dismissal was the last Bastille that the English needed to squeeze themselves to a fine victory.