It was great to see England bounce back at Lord’s in the ODI series. The defeat at Trent Bridge was a bad one. A chastening one. And it was made worse by the fact that everyone predicted we’d struggle against leg-spin. I thought Kuldeep would prove a handful but 6-25? Wow. That was even worse than the pessimists expected.
Luckily, however, England’s best batsman – and yes, he still is our best batsman in 50 over cricket – was there to restore some sanity at Lord’s. Joe Root played an excellent innings that was both sensible and skilful. He ensured there was no panic this time, and we played Kuldeep a lot better as a result. I know he picked up 3 wickets but I can live with that when he’s going for six runs per over.
The question now is whether the better performance at HQ was an aberration. Although England are making all the right noises by suggesting they’re picking Kuldeep better, I wouldn’t expect them to say anything else really. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Let’s see how we cope if Root is unable to marshal the innings at Headlingley. Our fallibility against quality spin has been entrenched for decades so I doubt we’ve suddenly found a magical solution now.
One senses that the decider will be quite an important game. Although the result isn’t everything – it’s who wins if these sides meet in next year’s world cup that counts – both teams will value the psychological advantage that victory at Leeds might bring.
England’s team, for example, is supposed to be the finished article. I certainly don’t envisage too many changes before next year. Defeat would therefore be somewhat worrying. Our macho way of playing requires the utmost confidence to pull off. A bad performance at Headingley, especially if leg-spin in the deciding factor, would therefore suggest vulnerability and plant seeds of doubt in the players’ minds.
Although defeat for India in the decider would also be a setback, I sense it’s not quite so vital for the visitors to win. After all, Virat Kohli has openly expressed that his team isn’t quite the finished article. India’s middle-order isn’t strong enough at the moment – did you know that Rohit, Dhawan and Virat have scored almost two thirds of India’s runs in successful chases over the last three years? – therefore they know they need to improve. I imagine a close defeat at Leeds would still give them plenty of positives, especially as England are currently the No.1 ranked side and enjoy home advantage here.
India’s other achilles heel, and it’s difficult to see how they can improve this area significantly in the short term, is their big tail. Generally teams don’t carry many bowlers who can’t bat a bit these days. India are the exception and it puts too much pressure on their big three or four players. It’s also one explanation why MS Dhoni played such a weird innings at Lord’s.
I wasn’t able to watch all of Dhoni’s innings as I’m in the middle of a very complicated house move at the moment, however, plenty of people on social media were intimating that something fishy was going on. Hmmm. I’m not so sure about that. Sometimes the most obvious explanation is the right one. And, as Kohli and Chahal both said after the game, Dhoni probably didn’t want India to suffer an enormous defeat and get bowled out quickly. He must have been aware that there wasn’t much batting to come after him.
Having said that, however, I can completely understand why some supporters in the ground felt a bit cheated. It doesn’t exactly make for a great spectacle when one team bats time and doesn’t even go for the win. It also reminds me of the times when I’ve been involved in club matches when there’s bad blood between the teams. Sometimes, when victory for one team becomes elusive, word goes round to “keep the bastards out there in the sun”. The batting team therefore bloodymindedly blocks out the remaining overs, and then disappears sharpish at the end without staying for a beer. I’m not saying that India adopted this approach, but it sure makes for some dull cricket.
Before I sign off, I’d quickly like to offer my solution to the two white balls (one at each end dilemma). Last week Sachin Tendulkar suggested they should go back to using just the one ball, as it makes scoring more difficult and brings reverse swing back into the 50-over format. The authorities, however, aren’t fans of this idea because they want batsmen to score as many runs as possible.
Well here’s my idea to solve the problem – although it may be a bit revolutionary for the authorities’ taste. In fact, it’s an idea so radical that your screen might explode as you read this:
Instead of using two white balls, why not simply use one red one and go back to playing in whites? What do white balls, dark sight screens, and lurid pyjamas actually add to the action anyway?
We might even see some better cricket with a ball that actually swings. There’s simply no need to play with a white ball unless it’s a day-nighter. And even then we could use the pink thing instead.