India must sort out top-order batting woes
Windies had competed well against the stronger and more fancied hosts in the first two matches that they lost at Cuttack and Vishakapatnam, but the victory in the must-win Ahmedabad match has lifted their sagging spirits on the tour where very little has gone right for them.
The much-vaunted Indian batting line-up would certainly be wary of the dangers posed by the varied Windies attack after the way they folded up in the Motera Stadium. Rohit Sharma played a lone dominant hand among the front-line batsmen and has been the bulwark of this batting order that is without the presence of key players Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, both rested, and the indisposed Yuvraj Singh.
The biggest flops have been the Delhi duo of Virender Sehwag, who is leading the squad in the absence of Dhoni, and Gautam Gambhir, performing well below par in the three games.
Both were dismissed shockingly for first-ball ducks by West Indies` pacer Ravi Rampaul who has made a big impact with both the bat and the ball in the rubber.
Sehwag and Gambhir need to pull up their act and come out with bigger contributions for India to take an unassailable lead and clinch their second ODI series in a row after the 5-0 whitewash of England. "We have to look at our top order. We have to click and fire. We have to give a good start as a team so that we can achieve any target or set any target for the West Indies in the coming games," said Sehwag after India lost at Ahmedabad.
Parthiv Patel, donning the gloves in the absence of Dhoni, did show some encouraging form in Ahmedabad while stroking his way to 39, but would need to convert such starts into more meaningful ones. The bowling too did not exactly set the Sabarmati river on fire with the likes of Umesh Yadav and Abhimanyu Mithun having been carted around by West Indian captain Darren Sammy and Andre Russell.
The old penchant of the Indian bowling attack to concede big runs to the lower order after packing off the top has resurfaced in this series. Yadav has been given a break for the last two games and Irfan Pathan, who had been in the international wilderness for nearly two and a half years, brought into the squad and his inclusion in the playing 11 would give the right-oriented pace attack a bit more variety.
The Baroda man`s presence, who has been rewarded for some consistent display in Ranji Trophy this season, would also add meat and experience to the line-up with his ability as a power-hitting left-handed floater in the batting order.
"It would be difficult for me to say whether it`s more of happiness or relief, but I would like to make full use of the opportunities available. Not many people get a chance to represent the country and I have been fortunate enough to do that and, God willing, would like to represent my nation for a long time," he has said.
There certainly could be a hint of nervousness in him when he steps on the field, but the 27-year-old is a potential match-winner and could not have asked for a more appropriate stage to rekindle his career. Pathan and Vinay Kumar could be a handful for the West Indies batting line up which is likely to miss the classy Darren Bravo who retired hurt when in good flow in Ahmedabad because of a left hamstring strain and did not resume his innings or come on to field.
Left-handed Bravo`s availability for the match is in doubt and his absence would be a big blow for the struggling Windies outfit. The visiting batsmen would again be confronted by the spin duo of Ashwin and left-armer Ravindra Jadeja both of who bowled well and economically in Ahmedabad. The visitors need to be more positive against this duo to keep the momentum going in the middle overs.
The return to form of Marlon Samuels with the bat, who batted fluently for his first half century of the rubber at Ahmedabad, is welcome news for the inexperienced batting order which has worked in fits and starts. Rampaul has been the stand-out performer with the ball for the visitors on this tour in both Tests and ODIs, and the tourists should also be very pleased with the debut of off spinner Sunil Narine who showed good variety and control in Ahmedabad with his flat stuff to pick up 2 for 34.
But the tourists` bowling, overall, looks a bit short of the necessary depth to trouble the long and formidable Indian batting unless it self-destructs as it did in Ahmedabad. Pitch curator Samundar Singh Chauhan said Tuesday that the wicket is batsmen-friendly. Whether the proceedings live up to his promise remain to be seen as in the first two games the batsmen have not had things all their way.