Dravid, Rohit need to do serious soul searching as defensive ploy flops

Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid
Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid need to get the playing XI right. File photo: AFP/Arun Sankar

Australia ended India's unbeaten run in One-Day International (ODI) series at home with a hard-fought 21-run victory in the decider in Chennai on Wednesday night. Interestingly, it was the Aussies who were the last team to inflict an ODI series defeat on the hosts on home soil,  back in 2019. 

If Australia rallied from 0-2 down to clinch the five-match series 3-2 then, this time around Steve Smith & Co. bounced back after losing the opener in Mumbai by five wickets.

Australia demolished India by 10 wickets in the second match at Visakhapatnam. Left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc (5/53) blew away the Indians and then the openers Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head chased down the modest target of 118 in just 11 overs to level the series.

Smith won a crucial toss and opted to bat on dry surface at the Chepauk. Marsh continued his fine run by scoring a run-a-ball 47 and added 66 for the opening wicket along with Head. Though medium-pacer Hardik Pandya brought India right back into the contest by picking up three quick wickets, the Australians put up a challenging total of 269. The Australian lower order added valuable runs after being reduced to 203/7 at one stage.

Anything over 250 was always going to challenge the Indians on a two-paced wicket. Though Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill added 65 for the first wicket in nine overs, Australia fought back through the spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar. Rohit (30), Gill (37), K L Rahul (32), Virat Kohli (54) and Pandya (40) were all guilty of throwing away their wickets after getting starts. 

Adam Zampa
Adam Zampa, second right, wrecked India in the series decider. Photo: PTI/R Senthil Kumar

Though leggie Zampa (4/45) was the wrecker-in-chief, it was left-arm spinner Agar's twin strikes in his final over, which swung the match decisively in Australia's favour. 

A well-set Kohli mistimed one to David Warner on the boundary, while Suryakumar Yadav's horror run continued as he fell for a first-ball duck for the third successive game. 

India sorely missed the injured Shreyas Iyer in the middle order. Iyer is a superb player of spin bowling and is a match-winner in the sub continent.

Australia have proved they are genuine title contenders for the World Cup to be played in India later in the year, while the defeat will rankle Rohit and head coach Rahul Dravid. But it could also be a blessing in disguise as India need to do some serious soul searching.

India need to copy reigning ODI and T20 World Cup champions England's brand of fearless cricket. The ploy of picking Axar Patel over leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal has not the yielded the desired result. Chahal is a genuine wicket-taker and India need to field both him and Kuldeep Yadav in order to pick up wickets in the middle overs. Axar's bowling has dipped drastically and preferring him over Chahal in hope of getting some additional runs down the order is a defensive ploy. 

Axar & Rohit
Axar Patel's bowling form is a worry for Rohit Sharma. Photo: PTI/R Senthil Kumar

Further more with Jadeja back, it is better to go for Chahal's variety instead of Axar, who is more of a containing bowler.

There is a big question mark over the participation of wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah in the mega event due to fitness issues. Whatever be the final 15, India need to pick the best 11 to give themselves a chance of ending the 10-year wait for an ICC trophy. The onus is on Rohit and Dravid and the duo needs to adopt a flexible approach or else it could well be another missed chance for Team India.

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