India's one-day performance in England is not just restricted to the results, but also how certain spots are shaping up given that the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is fast approaching
They say, and not without a reason, that defending the crown is far more difficult than winning it for the first time. India, the defending world champions in the 50 overs format, are finding themselves in a similar situation.
Murali Vijay must be considered for the opener's job given Dhawan's frailties against fast bowling. Pic/AFP
The 2015 World Cup hasn't started yet, but the countdown has, and India are on a slightly slippery slope with regards to their readiness for the big event.
While there's still some time to set things right, it's worth acknowledging that these ODIs against England are the last imited-overs matches that India would play before heading to Australia for the tri-series leading up to the World Cup.
It would be mandatory to know your squad before India steps Down Under. That's what makes this series extremely important and it's not restricted to just the results but also how certain spots are shaping up. That's why I'm not over the moon by India's thumping wins so far. Not yet.
The Indian ODI team is going through one of its lowest phases, for India have beaten only Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the 50-overs format since December 2013. In the same time, they've lost to South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Batting first or second, playing away or in the sub-continent, the results haven't changed much. Here it's important to remember that India won 6 ODI series in the 12 months before the slide began in South Africa. So, what's gone wrong? Is it just a phase of bad form for the team or there are some inherent flaws in the team that were, somehow, papered over in that dream run of sorts?
Well, for starters, like it's with the Indian team in Test cricket, India's performance in ODI also is directly proportional to the performance of its batsmen. If they do well, India does well, and if they fail, India go down without a whimper.
When India were stitching together those wins, its batsmen were in supreme form. Both openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan scored a 1000 runs each in that period. Kohli was unstoppable too along with the two openers and if there was still something left to be done, Dhoni invariably fired.
It showed the prowess of the famed Indian batting line-up, but what it didn't show was the fact that there was no contribution coming from anyone except these four. Now, Dhawan is searching for runs and it's quite apparent that he might not be a long-term opener in overseas conditions. Rohit is also in the same boat and with Kohli not in form, things are suddenly looking grim.
While Raina saved them the blushes at Cardiff, it must not be forgotten that it was only his fourth 50+ score outside the subcontinent in a career spanning eight long years. So, how much should one rely on Raina in overseas conditions is anyone's guess.
Rahane is another guy who's showed glimpses of the talent he possesses but even he's guilty of throwing it away courtesy some lazy shots after getting set. His career average of 25 in 31 ODI is a testimony to that sad reality.
Need for third opener
Going forward, India must identify a third opener, who has the technique to play the two new balls in Australian conditions, and that man in my opinion could be Murali Vijay. He's scored runs in Tests in England, which shows that he has the technique and his success in the IPL shows that he has the game for the shorter format too.
India must also consider playing either Sanju Samson or Kedar Jadhav, or both before it's too late, for it's imperative to know if these youngsters are cut out for international cricket. Also, this series should be used to assess the utility or futility of Stuart Binny as a seam bowling all-rounder, for India can ill-afford passengers for the World Cup.
Last but not the least, it's important to know if Jadeja and Ashwin are India's two spinners for Australia, for both have a rather unenviable record overseas. It may not be a bad idea to give the leg-spinner Karn Sharma a go before this series gets over.
The number of runs Murali Vijay has scored in the 14 one-dayers he has played for India at an average of 19.46