x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Indian cricket in a freefall after lost home series vs Pakistan

The nature of their batting order’s collapse and defeat to arch-rivals notwithstanding, the Men in Blue are no longer formidable at home, says Osman Samiuddin.

Pakistan have got an exciting opener in Nasir Jamshed.
Pakistan have got an exciting opener in Nasir Jamshed.

India do not readily lose bilateral one-day international series at home, no matter where they may stand as a side in the bigger picture.

Since November 2002 they have only lost three series (of more than a single scheduled game) out of 16 at home. Two of them have been to Australia and one to Pakistan, but mostly an ODI series in India has meant a few things: big batsmen, big runs, big chases, big Indian wins.

This is now their fourth - and it will not help matters that it came against Pakistan - but as much as the Test defeats over the last 18 months, this series loss is indicative of just how sharp their overall decline has been since the 2011 World Cup. Because India in a home ODI has usually been a sure thing, has it not?

Of course you could - and some will - argue that the decade-long record was built on spankings of sides such as the West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka (endlessly against Sri Lanka) and England; poor ODI sides in other words, made even more hapless on Indian surfaces.

The better sides and particularly the better bowling sides - Australia, South Africa and Pakistan - have always troubled the Men in Blue more.

But how much can you really downplay that formidable a record, especially if you include winning a World Cup at home in that time?

So to lose this series in this manner, and to a Pakistan ODI side that itself is not as dynamic as it could be (that we will come to), should make it particular revelatory.

Having played only a single ODI in the last calendar year (the first one against Pakistan in Chennai) and the scale of their Test losses has veiled it well, but India's ODI fall is now clearer than ever.

The batting, which for so long took the menacing ideological stance that they will chase down however many the bowlers have conceded, stands stale and bare suddenly.

Granted the two surfaces in the series have been more challenging than usual, but they were not pitches on which a side should be found at 29 for five and 95 for five. Few pitches justify those starts.

From the very top (and especially the top), right through the middle, with very few exceptions, this is a fading order.

The bowling? Remarkably it is not been as bad as their batting (caveat: Pakistan are among the worst sides against which to measure the worth of any bowling). But the recent changes in ODI rules, in particular the tweak to the field restrictions (that take away a fielder from outside the circle) are likelier to hurt a side like India more; one of their home strengths with the ball has been to capitalise on the essential defensiveness of the middle overs. That will no longer be the case.

And Pakistan? This is a hugely impressive and surely surprising result.

Their ODI form been iffy over the last year; they won the Asia Cup, but they lost each of their three bilateral series.

And in those 12 ODIs against England, Sri Lanka and Australia they won only twice, all played in conditions in the UAE and Sri Lanka which should suit them.

The balance of the batting has been off throughout and never more so, ironically, than in this series.

A middle three of Azhar Ali, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq is too one-paced and slow to be sustained, especially when you have Umar Akmal and the currently crocked Asad Shafiq sitting outside.

And it is particularly perverse that having come upon, finally, a genuinely exciting opener in Nasir Jamshed, they have a middle order designed squarely to squander his starts.

Their bowling continues to be cricket's Hydra-headed monster, two heads growing where one is cut off.

Mohammad Irfan's physique means judgement is better held for now, but Junaid Khan is a genuinely exciting prospect.

And remember, Pakistan have won this series without Afridi which - even accounting for his poor record against India - makes a big, symbolic statement.

But not for the first time recently, a win over India has only left one real question: how bad India have really become?

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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