x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

India-Australia series will be remembered as landmark series for batting records

Records tumbling in clashes with Australia has coincided with Indian top order clicking on subcontinent, writes Osman Samiuddin.

The contest between the bat and the ball has gone heavily in the batsmen’s favour, aided in no small part by the fact that India players such as Virat Kohli have hit a purple patch. Amit Dave / Reuters
The contest between the bat and the ball has gone heavily in the batsmen’s favour, aided in no small part by the fact that India players such as Virat Kohli have hit a purple patch. Amit Dave / Reuters

Almost a decade ago, after Pakistan had nearly chased a target of 350 against India in a ballistic ODI in Karachi, Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq felt no target was safe anymore over 50 overs.

In chases, and big chases, Inzamam was one of the very best, so his words, which at the time felt like both conclusion and prophecy, carried weight.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) had not been birthed, though Twenty20 cricket had. But the audacity of 50-over batting had been on an upwards trend since the mid-1990s. A now-forgotten seven-match ODI series between West Indies and India just over a year before that Karachi game felt especially seminal of some intrinsic advance in batsmanship.

The tourists easily chased down 280-plus totals in the first two games. India reached 200 by the 28th over in the third and won it on Duckworth/Lewis.

In the fourth, India hunted down 325 with more than two overs left. In the fifth, West Indies chased 291 and then made 300-plus in the last game. Inzamam’s words and the India-West Indies series have echoed loudly at various points over the last decade, most audibly when South Africa chased 434 against Australia.

That 36 of the 49 successful 300-plus chases in ODIs have come after March 2004 – after Inzamam made his point – makes perfect, evolutionary sense.

Now, in the immediate aftermath of India’s series win over Australia, arguably the most bat-dominated series of ODIs of all time, the temptation is to imagine cricket readying itself for another batting leap.

Though Inzamam spoke after his side made 344, an unspoken collective calibration at the time was that he likely meant totals around 300-330 were no longer safe. With this series, 350 looks like the new unsafe.

If you want to argue this case, there is plenty behind it, not least that the impact of Twenty20 generally is becoming clearer now.

Not just in more audaciously attacking batting, but, conversely, in Tests where long-form batsmanship is rarer.

A long-term gradual sway of ODI pitches in favour of batting can be factored in to strengthen this hypothesis. Subcontinent surfaces could be singled out in facilitating this batting onslaught, but it is not as clear as that.

The number of successful 300-plus chases since March 2004 is divided fairly evenly, in fact, inside and out of the subcontinent: as many as 17 of those 36 have come outside.

Some, like the Chappell-Hadlee series between Australia and New Zealand in early 2007, were every bit as run-infested.

In that sense, the 2011 World Cup, across the subcontinent, was far more representative of surfaces across the region. Add in rule tweaks that appear to have worked against bowlers and this series really does feel landmark-ish.

But if you believe all forms of cricket are best served only when the balance between ball and bat is even, you need not be despondent. There is as much that says this series is not as much a trendsetter as it appears, or at least no more than any bilateral ODI series tends to be.

For one, this is clearly an Indian batting order exceptional at taking full advantage of good batting conditions. They were propelled by men in the form of their lives and an all-time ODI legend in their captain, so much so that they could afford to have Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh fail repeatedly.

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have transformed the batting as openers, much as the men they replaced, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, once did.

This Indian side seems an evolutionary leap forward in what has been a golden modern tradition of Indian ODI batting. For vast periods this decade, no batting side has been as imposing as India’s and few have chased as well.

That combination of power, technical robustness, imagination and cold-bloodedness is unmatched. That all three double-hundreds in ODIs have now been made by Indians is not surprising.

Neither is it surprising, though, that all three were made in India. Though the subcontinent as a whole compares well with the rest of the world in post-March 2004 300-plus chases, India alone has seen 13 of those 19.

And even by those standards, the surfaces in this series were exceptional. Certainly they were if judged not by India’s stellar work, but by James Faulkner’s.

He is – or was before this series – a bowling all-rounder, though one who had done more than enough to suggest substantial ability with the bat, but his batting feats here were of a more unreal hue.

Finally, before we usher in another, newer age of batting dominance, it might do some good to remember last winter in India, when Pakistan toured for three ODIs. Then, an infinitely superior bowling attack coupled with wintry conditions not only made Indian surfaces look as though they were from a different country altogether, they produced what looked like a different sport, too.


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