From knaves to kings went the Indian Galacticos. A change in the colour of the little leather sphere was sufficient to bring about this transformation in fortunes so soon after the Test match debacle. The white ball is Team India’s passport to cricketing heights as opposed to the red ball that is so demanding when it comes to taking 20 wickets. Temperamentally too, the white ball suits Dhoni and his men. And since they don’t have to, in theory, get batsmen out to win limited-overs matches, they seem to do it with a vengeance.
For Team India, this is not a bad place to be in currently since the World Cup is less than six months away. It is now a matter of keeping the momentum going during that period while not letting small things like a Test series Down Under to get under the collar. The positive energy flow seems to come when the action is limited in terms of scoring opportunities rather than in the Test match arena, which calls for technique as well as temperament. The problems have, however, not gone away altogether, it’s just that the format has changed.
Truth to tell, it would have been a major embarrassment if Team India did not win the ODI series against a lowly England side that has never really mastered the art of the one-day game. Just last year, they were on the verge of beating India in the Champions Trophy final when they lost their nerve at the finish. Since then they have become an even lesser side and it was up to Dhoni’s men to seize the opportunity.
Where the credit lies is in Team India putting behind the bitter memories of the Test defeats and getting back into winning ways in a format that suits them to a T. Much like Team England recovering from the Lord’s defeat to turn the tables, India bounced back from the Tests to sweep the series with very compelling all round performances as the bowlers swung the ball or turned it sharply and batsmen who enjoyed the single dig they get in overs-limit cricket.
It all boiled down to making the difference, which is what the fresh enthusiasm of Suresh Raina, the branded one-day specialist, brought to the team in his first game out in a long time. Clipping smartly one ball off his legs to the onside boundary to get his innings going showed that he had not lost his touch in the hiatus. He continued to make merry against England pacers who met pitching it up instead of testing his old weakness, which is to do with handling short-pitched bowling.
Given the freedom, Raina soared and on top of his free hitting in the company of his skipper who is tailor made for the thrust in the middle overs, Team India soared too. The only way England could hope to match India was to put up 300 on the board batting first. They seemed set to get there when they were 82 for no loss in the 18th over in the middle ODI of the five-match series of which the first one was a washout. They lost the grip when the spinners came on and from then on it was downhill all the way for Alastair Cook and his permanently underperforming one day team.
Ashwin was a revelation as he got in among the wickets again. Compared to his horrendous away Test record, he is a match winner in the shorter formats. His clinical precision seems to come with the ideal variations needed in ODIs whereas the steady mean is perhaps not good enough on true pitches for him to be a Test force when not bowling on the designer surfaces of India. The seamers moved the white ball more effectively in the conditions than their England counterparts making Team India far more potent when the opposition has to do the scoring against a sharp deadline.
And, would you believe it, the butter fingers of the Test series were replaced by some sharp digits as everything seemed to stick in the hand for the close catchers. The series clinching performance at Bristol was made possible by sharp catching backing up the seamers before an Ajinkya Rahane maiden hundred sealed the deal with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of performance. The only worry is whether Team India is peaking far too early ahead of the World Cup.