This defeat was a bit galling. The playing conditions could not have been more Indian than at Leeds where a dry pitch with genuine turn for the spinners was featured in the ODI decider at Headingley. On a distinctly bright Indian summer’s day, an English immigrant wrist spinner bamboozled Team India, including the captain Virat Kohli. The leg break, if not quite in the class of the ball of the previous century by Shane Warne to Mike Gatting, was certainly sufficient to get a priceless reaction of shock and awe on the batsman’s visage as Rashid beat and bowled him.
A feeling of invincibility seemed to have crept into the Indians after Rohit Sharma thoroughly dominated the T20 decider and then continued his good form into the ODI series opener. There was high class entertainment in his assured strokeplay with the hint of his having that extra millisecond to play the ball, and ever so aggressively. With Kuldeep Yadav having them over a barrel with early wickets, it did seem then that India would have vaulted into favouritism for next year’s World Cup, always likely to roll out similar uniform surfaces for run-filled ODIs, provided the weather remains like this summer’s.
The technology aiding modern cricketers is, however, available equally to all teams. A proper implementation of a strategy against the Chinaman from Kanpur who had laid a siege earlier was indicative of very shrewd analysis. "Stop giving early wickets," they said before even beginning to deconstruct his Chinaman and his googly. Joe Root was the secret weapon employed. There are not many batsmen in the world who would back themselves to read a mystery spinner off the pitch. Root had the wherewithal, the soft hands, the time to play the ball late and an array of strokes to take advantage of any errors in line and length.
The two masterclass Root innings were sufficient to tilt the scales and rewrite history as Team India had won the previous nine or so bilateral ODI and T20 series, leaving only the aberration of the Champions Trophy defeat in June 2017 at the hands of Pakistan over the last couple of hectic years of cricket. It was surreal watching an English batsman dismantle the threat of Indian spin. But then we have seen such miracles as an Indian top order taking on England’s swing and seam at this same venue in historic Tests in 1986 as well as 2007. This was the reverse revolution and literally so as Kuldeep depends on the revolutions to the ball to weave his magic.
Where does that leave the World Cup now that it is believed Mahendra Singh Dhoni might even be having second thoughts about going there? One would still back him to play the dashing finisher in the competition provided the middle order is stronger. It doesn’t take great analysis to voice the opinion that some haste was shown in taking KL Rahul out of the XI just as Dinesh Karthik was never given a consistent run in ODIs although he had shown his state of mind in mastering that extraordinary T20 chase against Sri Lanka. The task of constructing a middle order strong enough for 2019 is not going to come by juggling the options in the home ODI series. Would the selectors consider Rahul and Karthik as the top two and think of the bolter Rishabh Pant too as a late middle order striker and groom them in the coming ODIs at home so they won’t be lacking confidence when they are picked for the World Cup next year?
The trick is to analyse first and make calls on judgment rather than throw the batsmen constantly into a laboratory line of testing in the home season.
It is also important to remember that one can’t go forward by thinking back. Forget the sentimental recalls like those of Suresh Raina and get on with a final batting combination that would give Team India the best chance for a proper tilt at the World Cup.
Each one may have an opinion on which batsmen to favor for at least a couple of middle order slots. But if they put on their caps and think who will serve the Indian cause best, they cannot go wrong. The trick here is to think Indian and for India.