2015 in review: India Test team

A year of transition for India, with times of despair and disappointment, but ultimately finishing with stunning success. But what did we learn from 2015 and what can we expect from 2016?

The year started in Sydney, with a draw to conclude the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which was ultimately lost 2-0. Another disappointing display with the ball came as no surprise, as did another Virat Kohli century. However, Lokesh Rahul’s gutsy maiden test century was something truly unexpected.

The next time we saw India in action in the white clothing was in Bangladesh. A rain affected draw brought immense frustration, as well as huge encouragement. While the result did not go in India’s favour, the match was hugely significant for Ravichandran Ashwin and Virat Kohli. Ashwin delivered his first test 5-for over 2 years. Hugely significant, as it was perhaps the match in which he proved to Virat Kohli that he was the true leader of the attack.

After Bangladesh, came Sri Lanka – Virat’s first full series as captain. In truth, the 2-1 scoreline probably flattered Sri Lanka a little, as India largely dominated all three test matches. The most valuable of these tests, however may have proved to be the most valuable, exposing India’s embarrassing deficiency against high quality spin bowling.

But after the calamity of the fourth innings collapse fueled defeat, India showed huge spirit to come back. Virat Kohli displayed huge prowess with the bat (as we have all come to expect), but his nous as a captain came as a pleasant surprise. Indeed, in 2016, we have seen Virat become a smooth tactician with positive fields and attacking bowling changes.

Ravi Ashwin was simply irrepressible as he left Sri Lankan left handers, in particular, clueless, dismissing Kumar Sangakkara 4 times in 4 innings in his the Sri Lankan great’s final series and Ishant Sharma showed his quality, as well as his passion, which sometimes came out as uncontrollable aggression.

Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay continued to be India’s most reliable test batsmen and the return of Cheteshwar Pujara was a hugely welcome one.  A 2-1 series victory was deserved and must have provided a huge confidence boost for Kohli, Shastri and all of the players.

India’s final test assignment came against the world number 1 test side, South Africa. All previous test matches in the year had been played without one of India’s biggest stars; Ravindra Jadeja.

Jadeja was absolutely pivotal in India’s brutally comprehensive 3-0 series win. India ran through the South African batting lineup time and time again, with Jadeja and Ashwin taking a staggering 54 wickets between them.

Success in the batting department was more subtle in the first three tests, but the vital contributions of Pujara, Vijay and Jadeja should not be forgotten. But in the fourth test, India’s Mr Reliable strung together twin centuries in a sterling man of the match performance. A terrific effort on a pitch, on which survival could be achieved with guts, but on which scoring runs required a huge amount of skill.

Victory in the inaugural Freedom Trophy represented a hugely satisfying end to 2016 for India and their new captain. In very much a novel way for Indian cricket, the test side is probably the most settled side out of all the three formats.

Perhaps the only question mark is the wicket keeper; Wriddhiman Saha is an outstanding gloveman – probably one of the best in the world. However, doubts remain over his batting. Despite showing guts in many innings and contributing a few handy knocks, India’s batting lineup looks slightly shaky with him at 7 and worryingly short with him at 6. However with no obvious heir apparent to MS Dhoni (Sheldon Jackson, Naman Ojha, Sanju Samson and Ankush Bains are promising players), it is likely that Saha will continue as the wicket keeper for a little while yet.

2016 should provide more home test matches (and an exciting home clash with England) and therefore more opportunity for India’s premier spin duo to pick up bags of wickets and torture batting lineups.

If Virat’s initial success as captain is anything to go by, India fans should expect a successful 2016 for the test side…

Star man: Ravichandran Ashwin

Under performer: Rohit Sharma

Will excel in 2016: Ajinkya Rahane

Could come into the fold: Shreyas Iyer

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2015 in review: India Test team

India’s win is a landmark, but questions remain

“India’s first overseas win in 4 years” was the line that was repeated over and over again, after India wrapped up victory against Sri Lanka at the SSC, to secure a 2-1 series win in the Cricbuzz Cup.

There can be no doubt that this was a hugely significant victory for India – an overseas victory after being 1-0 down was a massive achievment for Virat Kohli and his men, but with South Africa being the next challenge, there are some doubts that India need to address.

1. The Top 3

In the three tests against Sri Lanka, India deployed three different combinations for the top order, with Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara the men selected at various points. What makes the question above so difficult to answer is that all (bar Rohit Sharma) did well in different matches, when playing in the top 3.

One man in a very tough position is KL Rahul – centurion and man of the match in the second test – who collected 5(!) single figure scores in six innings. The Indian heirachy must surely be dissapointed with his inconsistent nature and his one century in the series may not be enough for him to keep his place.

Although he posted an excellent 2nd innings century, it is likely that Ajinkya Rahane will slip back into the middle order, meaning that if Rohit Sharma is to find a place in the test side, it will likely be at 6. However, for this to take place, India would have to abandon the 5 bowler theory that served them pretty well in the Sri Lanka series.

All of this means that when the first test in Mohali comes around, the top 3 will probably be Vijay, Dhawan and Pujara. But with Dhawan often having patches of extrememly poor form, KL Rahul may find himself close to the team, come the end of the series.

2. Old demons reappear for Virat Kohli

While the third test showed that Virat Kohli is developing rapidly as a test match captain, there was also a worrying flashback to his disastrous tour of England. Poking twice at deliveries outside the off stump, resulting in two edges and two dismissals. Everyone remembers how Jimmy Anderson terrorised Virat and the re-earthing of his vulnerability on the 4/5th stump in the final test was a definite concern.

This is an issue that must not be ignored by Virat and batting coach and Sanjay Bangar, considering that India will be coming uo against one of the best line bowlers in the world; Vernon Philander. If Virat still has the weakness outside the off stump, Philander will be the man to exploit it.

If South Africa can subdue Virat Kohli in a similair way that England did, the effects will be double what they were in the UK. Now Virat is the captain, so morale of the team would be severly hurt. But also, if India want to stick with deploying 5 bowlers, Virat’s runs are absolutely key.

Indeed, this is an issue Captain Kohli must address.

3. The fifth bowler

In the Sri Lanka series, India tried Stuart Binny and Harbhajan Singh as the fifth bowlers. Stuart Binny (described as the 4.5th bowler) did admirably on helpful pitches, impressing particularly with his performance in the third test. However, in the 4 test series against Sri Lanka, it is likely that India will want as much help for the spinners as possible, considering India’s strength in the spin department and South Africa’s weakness.

This makes it less likely that Binny will feature and that India would prefer either a specialist 3rd spinner (like Pragyan Ojha) or a spin bowling all rounder (like Axar Patel). Both Ojha and Patel have impressed in the recent “A” matches, but Axar Patel probably needs to play more first class games before he can be considered.

It is on dry pitches that Ravindra Jadeja was so effective for India in the past. However, he seems to have completely dropped of the radar. It was possibly a missed oppurtunity not to include Jadeja in the “A” matches, to see is he could still be a weapon on spinning pitches.

What is probably in Ojha’s favour is that both Mishra and Ashwin showed they can score lower order runs. This could mean that Ashwin could move up to 7, to act as the all rounder, and Ojha could move in.

4. Ishant’s replacement

Following his spat with Dhammika Prasad, Ishant was banned for one game. This is a big blow for India, considering Ishant just put in a match winning performance. The other seam bowlers in the Sri Lanka squad were Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Bhuveneshwar Kumar.

With Umesh Yadav looking to be a bowler favoured by India, it looks to be a shootout between the other two.

An opening pair of Yadav and Aaron looks too much of a risk, considering both routinely go at over 4.5 runs an over. This surely means that Bhuveneshwar Kumar is next in line. This would seem to be a good pick considering his great control and ability to prodigiously swing the new ball. Personally, I thought it was a surprise that Bhuveneshwar Kumar didn’t feature at all in the Sri Lanka series, given that the pitches were seamer friendly.

A series victory in Sri Lanka is certainly a great achievement for the Indian team, but to have a chance against South Africa, the management must adress these issues.

India’s win is a landmark, but questions remain

5 bowler theory comes unstuck for India

In the build up to the match, all the talk from the Indian camp was about the positives of playing five bowlers, with Ravi Shastri, Bharat Arun and skipper Virat Kohli all saying that they favoured playing 5 bowlers. Although you would expect India to stick with the 5 bowler theory for a little while yet, because of the bowling successes enjoyed in the first match, we were able to see that this risk can have catastrophic consequences.

In the first two (maybe even the third) days, it looked that the makeup of the team was just right, with India being able to bowl out Sri Lanka out cheaply and being able to post a reasonable first innings total themselves. However, even in those first two extremely encouraging days, warning signs were there about how risky this gamble was. After being 255-2 India were bowled out for 375. 375 seemed a decent score, but the innings highlighted that the top order had huge responsibility on their shoulders to score the bulk of the runs.

A target of 173, although it was never going to be easy, should have been achieved in the fourth innings. However, when India were reduced to 60-5, there was never a chance that they were going to get close to knocking of the runs.

This highlighted another problem with the five bowler theory – the wicket keeper. If MS Dhoni was in for India, there would still have been hope, however Wriddhiman Saha is still developing as a test match batsman having only played 6 matches. Comparisons between Saha and the Dhoni that left the test arena in Melbourne would be hugely unfair, due to the vast difference between the international experience Dhoni had and Saha has. However, with five bowlers, Saha is absolutely vital. If he becomes a passenger, India suddenly find themselves relying on just 5 players to post a decent score. The Bengal man showed his ability with the bat in the first innings with a useful 60, but it will be the pressure situations that define him. Dhoni was a master of marshalling the tail in the tough times; a skill that would be invaluable to this 5 bowler side. For the 5 bowler theory to work, Wriddhiman Saha has to be able to do the same.

A lot of talk in the run to the series was about Ravichandran Ashwin becoming the all-rounder India fans have always wanted him to be. There was even some talk of him batting at 6 in the press. However, despite once again showing that he is comfortably India’s best bowler, his batting performances were disappointing. In the first innings, he faced just four balls, which included a loose drive and a slash over the slips. If he could have hung around with Saha for a while, India could have built a huge first innings lead. What was strange though was his second innings. Despite Virat Kohli saying Ashwin could be a ‘genuine all-rounder’, he was sent in below Harbhajan Singh. This was incredibly odd and could potentially highlight the lack of trust that India have in Ashwin.

India will hope that Murali Vijay will return to fitness in time for the next test. He will add solidity to the batting order and India will hope that he puts less pressure on Saha and the tail to score runs.

India will no doubt persist with playing five bowlers, but this test match has highlighted the risks of the theory.

5 bowler theory comes unstuck for India

Bhuvneshwar Kumar must be a must

When Bhuvneshwar Kumar first burst on to the international scene,against Pakistan on Christmas Day, it looked to many that India had found a new pillar in their bowling attack.

However, following injuries and slight losses of form, Kumar was left fighting for his place in all formats. But I now feel Bhuvi has the skills to be a regular across all formats for India.

In limited overs games, he surely now has to be a must. In the powerplay he has always proved useful, swinging the new ball both ways dramatically. Now, however, as seen in the IPL and the recent tour to Zimbabwe, Bhuvi has showed that he is probably the best death bowler that India possess. His ability to land a yorker is an invaluable asset, considering that India’s death bowling has often proved to be totally inadequate.

The combination of being superb with the new ball and a fantastic death bowler surely makes Kumar India’s best limited overs bowler and a certainty in ODI an T20I games.

In tests, many have reservations as to whether Kumar should be a regular. I had hoped that Bhuvi’s ‘man of the series’ performance in England would prove a lot of doubters wrong, however Kumar’s performance at the MCG in the boxing day test did little to enhance his reputation. This was largely unfair, considering that Kumar had not recovered from an injury that had ruled him out of the first two tests.

Some people also worry about Kumar’s usefulness once the new ball loses its shine. However, in England I feel Bhuvi dispelled many of these doubts. In the tests at Trent Bridge and at Lord’s in particular Bhuvi proved he could pick up wickets with the older ball.

Kumar’s ability to pick up early wickets has never been in question, because of his ability (like in limited overs games) to swing the new ball with accuracy. In all conditions, this could prove to be a massive weapon for the captain Virat Kohli. If Bhuvi can pick up 2 or 3 wickets upfront, the Indian spinners could make it hugely difficult for opposition middle orders

One thing that should also not be underestimated is Bhuvi’s profeciency with the bat. Kumar is a far better batsmen than any of the other India seamers. At number 9, Kumar could prove extremely useful, as without him, India’s tail looks very vulnerable.

We must wait to see who the Indian selectors will go with for the test matches in Sri Lanka, but surely, out of all of the seamers, Bhuvi must be the first name on the team sheet.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar must be a must

Questions need to be asked of England’s seam attack

Following a truly embarrassing display of spineless batting the fourth day of the second Ashes test, most fingers were rightly pointing in the direction of the England batsmen. How, many wondered, could England be bowled out in 37 overs on a pitch that had looked so flat when Australia’s batsmen had plundered 820 runs without looking troubled? There is no doubt that being skittled in 37 overs was a pathetic effort and that the batsmen should be under fire. However, the England hierarchy should also have concerns over the bowling.

We are led to believe that it was not at the request of Alastair Cook or England that the two pitches prepared at Cardiff and Lord’s were painfully slow, bare and dry. This would make sense, as the kinds of pitches we have seen are certainly not to England’s advantage. While Australia’s main strike duo of Mitchells Johnson and Starc do not need a quick pitch to be effective with their lethal Yorkers and terrifying bouncers, England’s new ball pair of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are far more potent with assistance from the pitch.

Jimmy Anderson has showed in the past that he can put in match winning performances on slower wicket – recently he averaged an excellent 18 with the ball in tough conditions in the West Indies. However, even those relatively lifeless pitches offered some seam movement for Anderson. Without even the smallest covering of grass, the two pitches so far have made life exceedingly difficult for the Lancashire man. Anderson has still maintained a threat with the new ball, as he always does, but with the older ball at Lord’s, there were times when he never looked likely to get a wicket – an extremely worrying sign for England and England’s leading wicket taker.

Anderson, to his credit, tried to compensate for the total lack of swing he was able to extract by attempting to create the effect of movement in the air by going around the wicket. This move was worth an effort, due to the fact that Anderson was posing no threat from over the wicket. But the way Steve Smith and an ageing Chris Rogers negotiated the new angle with ease would have been a disheartening sight for Alastair Cook and England. A wicketless game for Anderson was hugely disappointing.

There is no chance Anderson will be left out for the Edgbaston test, however it is hard to see Anderson being effective beyond the new ball on pitches that offer no seam movement. Therefore, the question must be asked; would England have been better served playing a bowler who will consistently test the batsmen?

One bowling positive from Lord’s was the encouraging performance of Stuart Broad in the first innings. The Nottinghamshire bowler showed that he could survive (but perhaps not thrive) in difficult bowling conditions. Broad bowled full lengths and perhaps proved that he is the one England bowler most similar to the Aussies, in the sense that he was able to still look threatening on a benign surface. That said, he, along with Anderson would have benefited greatly from a more helpful pitch.

Mark Wood has shown huge promise in his 4 test matches to date and his bowling average of 39 cannot be taken as a true reflection of the value he has added to this England side. His 90mph bowling has added an element that was certainly missing in the Caribbean, where Chris Jordan was deployed as the third seamer. However, in the second innings (and in parts of the first innings) his pace was alarmingly lower, dropping closer to 80mph. With little reverse swing present, Wood’s two unique selling points vanished, making him very Jordan/Woakes-esque – not what England need to challenge the potentially vulnerable Australian batting line-up. England should remember that the reason Wood was picked was to add the different dimension; at 80 mph surely he is too similar to Anderson and Stokes.

It should also be remembered that Wood, who has only ever played three consecutive first class games on one occasion, has had a very heavy workload – he was the only one out of the three specialist bowlers to take part in the New Zealand ODI series. England could think about giving the Durham quick a longer rest, by leaving him out for the third test. This could ensure that by the fourth test at Trent Bridge he is fully fit and able to bowl at 90 mph throughout the test match. His genuine fast bowling could be crucial at Nottingham; in the last two summers, the flattest track England played on was at Trent Bridge both times. If the pitch is similarly flat once more, Wood could be the one England bowler who could match the Australian attack in being able to take the pitch out of the equation.

The question then inevitably comes; who could England play at Edgbaston, should they choose to give Mark Wood, or even (it would be a surprise of gargantuan proportions) Jimmy Anderson, a break?

The fact that Tymal Mills can no longer play first class matches is a cricketing tragedy for England. Mills would have offered something truly different – express pace combined with steep bounce and a left arm angle make Mills a potentially ‘X-factor’ bowler. However, with that option no longer available in test cricket, England may have to look at other options.

The alternative option in the squad is Steven Finn – a man who may not have the pace of Tymal Mills, but does have international (and Ashes) experience. Finn showed against New Zealand in the ODI series that he still has the ability to take international wickets, with the Middlesex pacer’s best performance coming (appropriately) at Edgbaston. With Micheal Clarke’s continuing nervousness against the short ball, the Australian captain would certainly not welcome the picking of Finn. Along with Stuart Broad, the 6 foot 7 inch quick could cause Clarke some serious problems. For one test match, Steven Finn would seem to be a decent pick.

Either way, for England’s bowling to become a true threat to Australia, it all goes back to one man – Jimmy Anderson. To make him a danger, pitches are key and while a greener surface may concern England’s batsmen, to have the greatest chance of bowling Australia out twice, seam movement for Anderson is vital. England may be advised to also play the longer game with Mark Wood, ensuring he is fully fit for Trent Bridge, where he could be key.

While Gary Balance has paid the price for his poor form and is unlikely to play any further part in the series, following his removal from the squad, Mark Wood should be removed from the team, so he can play a potentially series-defining role.

Questions need to be asked of England’s seam attack

Joe Root at 3 – a risk too far for Edgbaston?

Following yet another Joe Root century at Cardiff, the clamour for him to be moved to the number 3 position reached fever pitch. After Gary Ballance’s disastrous test match at Lord’s, the cry became defeaning. But would this promotion be the best move for the man himself and for England?

It has become almost a sad inevitability that Joe Root walks to the crease in a mini crisis, following a shambolic top order failure. It has become almost equally expected that Root will get England out of trouble. This has led to the thought that Joe Root should prevent the top order collapse, rather than having to deal with the aftermath of it. The sad, repetitive nature of Gary Ballance’s ugly dismissals and stodgy, slow-scoring innings have made the idea of Root at 3 even more appealing. But England fans should have reservations about the positives of moving Joe Root up to number 3.

We shouldn’t forget that Root hasn’t been hugely successful in his limited experience against the swinging new ball so far, often struggling to handle high quality opening bowlers with a better preserved ball in their hands. In the 2013 Ashes series in England, Root averaged a decent 37 as an opener. However, that average was propped up by his 2nd innings 180 at Lord’s, when he had the comfort of a first innings lead. Root was dropped on 8 in that innings and if, hypothetically, he had been taken by Brad Haddin, his average would have been a meagre 16.7. Viewed in this light, it would appear that Root did not have the technique to deal with high quality new ball bowling, the likes of which he would be more exposed to at number 3. More worryingly, when he was deployed at number 3 in the 2013/14 Ashes in Australia, he changed from being the free scoring player we know, to being very much Ballance-esque. He was also unable to deal with the fierce pace of Mitchell Johnson, or the nagging lines and swing of Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris. But, then again none in the England side (bar perhaps Ben Stokes) were able to.

It must be said that Root has improved massively since those series, but he has shown some vulnerability more recently against the new ball. For instance, against New Zealand, he was only present in the 80th over (to face the second new ball) once – at Lord’s in the first innings. Here he fell just one over after the new ball was taken. Even more recently at Cardiff, he did struggle against Mitchell Starc swinging a relatively new ball into the stumps at pace and at Lord’s he was brutally roughed up by Mitchell Johnson. Looking at it this way, there could be a chance that Root would struggle if he had to come in early.

It should be noted that Root has enjoyed some success following his promotion to 3 in ODI cricket. Two centuries in the recent series against World Cup runners-up New Zealand would appear to signal that Root has what it takes to bat at 3. However, these runs need to be looked at in context. The New Zealand attack was vastly different to the one that served them so well in the World Cup. There was no Adam Milne (due to injury) and the wily Daniel Vettori had retired. Also, the dream new ball pairing of Trent Boult and Tim Southee never appeared in tandem and Corey Anderson was also absent. The bowlers who New Zealand did play struggled to swing the ball, like (for instance) Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander would on day one of a test match. A weakened attack combined with the flattest of flat pitches throughout the series unfortunately mean that not too much can be taken, in regards to what he might do in test cricket, from Root’s performance in those matches, thrilling though they were.

Nevertheless, if Root (it is likely he will) continues to have success at 3 in one day cricket, it doesn’t mean he must be moved up the order in test matches. Many a fine test middle order player has batted higher in one day matches, normally because of their aggressive style of play, similar to Root. Adam Gilchrist is an extreme example, but more recently we have seen Virat Kohli become probably the best ODI number 3 in the world, whilst still batting number 4 or 5 for India in test matches. England should resist the temptation to use limited overs performances as solid evidence that Root will be successful at 3 or proof that he needs to be moved up to number 3.

But perhaps the most obvious point is that Joe Root has been brilliant at his current position of number 5. His busy approach makes him a perfect fit for the position and with Ian Bell getting no younger, perhaps Root would be better suited to a Pietersen/Kohli style role at number 4 in the future, rather than a Williamson/Ballance style role at 3.

Many will point to the fact that Steve Smith of Australia has made the transition from middle order player to world class number 3 seamlessly. However, Steve Smith showed that his (albeit odd) technique was tight enough to survive new ball spells in South African seaming conditions. Smith was also given a gentle induction at his new position, with a tour against a languishing West Indian side, to adjust to his new position.

Root will be afforded no such luxury. An attack of Mitchells Johnson and Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon will give the young Yorkshireman the sternest possible test. Putting Root into the mix earlier on would not only be risky for the batsman himself, but would also not necessarily be the best move for England. While the top order has struggled, Root (alongside Ben Stokes) has been reliable and the one ‘tick’. By moving Root up the order, England could well be losing on of their few ‘ticks’, because of the adjustment Root would have to make, as well as his potential vulnerability against the new ball.

Alternatives to Root may not be numerous but they are present. It seems almost certain that at some point England will have to draw the line under Gary Balance for the immediate future, and if that decision is made for Edgbaston, Ian Bell should probably be thought of as favourite for the number 3 slot. The Warwickshire man has previous international experience at 3 and also bats there for the Bears. In fact, in his most recent outing for Warwickshire at 3, Bell notched a fine century. On his home ground, Bell’s vast international (and Ashes) experience would hold him in good stead. Bell at 3, Root at 4 and Stokes and Jonny Bairstow completing the middle order looks a very solid batting lineup. Could the aggressive Alex Hales be the batsman England need in their top order to put the Australians under pressure? Or could England look to Nick Compton – a player with international experience and has had a solid season batting at 3 with Middlesex?

Either way, England should resist the temptation to pull the golden boy away from relative comfort and throw him into the green and gold fire. They should look to their second most experienced player Ian Bell to fill the place of Gary Ballance for the 3rd Ashes test at Edgbaston. If that fails, England may be left with very little option but to see if Root can carry across his form from 5 to 3.

 

Joe Root at 3 – a risk too far for Edgbaston?

India player ratings for the ODI series V Zimbabwe

The ODI series in Zimbabwe comprised of 3 Indian victories in Harare. Some players used the series to showcase their ability and send a message to the selectors that they are ready for more challenging assignments, while some failed to deliver. Here are the Indian player ratings;

Stuart Binny – 120 runs (average 60), 6 wickets (average 25.2)

Rating: 8.5/10

The Karnataka all rounder enjoyed a hugely successful series, massively enhancing his reputation as a more than handy all rounder. With Ravindra Jadeja struggling for form, Binny’s performances will please India, as he now seems to be an excellent alternative to the left armer. Binny’s batting in this series far exceeded the performances Ravindra Jadeja has put in, in the recent past. His 77 in the first ODI was a masterful mix of patience and destructive power, the kind of innings that India have often looked to Jadeja for, and the kind Jadeja has delivered precious few times. For India to be fully convinced by Binny’s credentials as a replacement for the stalling Jadeja, though, the medium pacer may have to show more with the ball. His economy in this series of 5.6 is a touch expensive for a man who would often be called upon to bowl 10 overs. Still, his wicket taking ability combined with his brutal batting makes him an exciting prospect, and perhaps now puts him in pole position in the race for the all rounder’s slot full-time.

Harbhajan Singh – 4 wickets (average 27.5)

Rating – 8

An impressive showing by the experienced Punjabi off-spinner on his return to ODI cricket. Harbhajan showed his class in 3 excellent bowling performances, a continuation of the good form shown in the IPL. Although Harbhajan may have hoped for more wickets, he was able to tie the Zimbabwean batsmen down, with beautiful flight, dip and spin. An economy rate of 3.7 is superb in a format that is quickly becoming hugely bat-dominated. Harbhajan is another player who may benefit in the decline in form of Ravindra Jadeja. If India choose to play Binny at 7, it could allow the selectors to choose another spinner alongside Ravi Ashwin. After this set of performances, that man would surely be Harbhajan Singh.

Kedar Jadhav – 126 runs (average 63)

Rating – 8

Things did not look good for the thirty year old right hander, after two low scores in the first 2 matches. And when Jadhav walked to the crease at 82-4, with the best part of thirty overs still to bat, the pressure was really on. What followed was a spectacular demonstration of touch and power, that propelled the Indian innings. Another spot potentially up for grabs was the number 5 slot full time in the Indian team. Jadhav’s 105 not out was almost the perfect innings of a number 5 batsman, with the frequent boundary hitting a real positive. Who knows, this could be the innings that puts Kedar Jadhav firmly in the minds of the selectors when choosing India’s next ODI squad.

Dhawal Kulkarni – 2 wickets (average 49.5)

Rating – 4

A disappointing outing for the Mumbai man. This series provided a good chance for Kulkarni  to push for a full time slot as one of India’s seamers. However, following this poor display against Zimbabwe, it is hard to see him being considered for India’s next ODI assignment. His economy of 5.5 illustrates that he struggled with line and length, often giving the batsmen easy deliveries to score from. With good showings from Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kulkarni may have to wait a little while before his next chance.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar – 5 wickets (average 16)

Rating – 9

Comfortably India’s best bowler. Kumar showed control with the new ball that was unmatched by any of his fellow pacers, swinging the ball both ways, even if the movement was not quite as dramatic as what we have seen from him before. Batsmen found it difficult to rotate strike whilst facing his high quality bowling, with his outswinger beating the edge of many a bamboozled Zimbabwe batsman. At the death, his ability to pull out a yorker under pressure was highly impressive, especially considering India’s frequent struggles in the latter stages. With brilliant powerplay and death bowling, it is still confusing why he has not been a guaranteed starter for at least a year now. However, if he can follow on from this impressive tour, his place will be set in stone.

Manish Pandey – 71 runs (average 71)

Rating – 8

Pandey had only one opportunity to show what he could do and he grasped it with both hands, playing a mature innings of someone playing their 101st ODI, not their first. He marshalled India through trouble and, although he had to occasionally control his attacking instincts, he scored relatively freely throughout his innings. Although he would have been disappointed not to have seen the innings through, he took India to safety. Do not be surprised if he makes an appearance in India’s next ODI squad.

Axar Patel – 3 runs (average 3), 5 wickets (average 24)

Rating 6.5

Axar Patel would have gone into the Zimbabwe series knowing that a strong set of all-round performances would push him towards future selection at number 7. While Axar’s performances with the ball were solid, his batting form means he has no right to be considered for the all rounder’s role at the moment. Following yet another single figure score, he was pushed down to number 9, below Harbhajan, for the 2nd ODI. HIs disappointing batting performances mean he has probably fallen below Stuart Binny in the pecking order in the tussle for the all rounder’s slot and Harbhajan Singh’s impressive display means he is probably not the 2nd choice spinner after Ashwin, either. Patel is only 21 and is still a very promising cricketer.

Ajiknkya Rahane (c) – 112 runs (average 37.3)

Rating – 6

A curious series in many ways for Rahane. In his first taste of international captaincy, he was proactive with field settings and, of course, oversaw a 3-0 series win. However, on the batting front, Rahane’s fortunes were mixed, passing fifty once in three innings. Batting at the top of the order, Rahane once again showed he is a more than capable replacement, should one of Shikhar Dhawan or Rohit Sharma be unavailable. But perhaps the patient way in which he was forced to bat did not help his cause for a middle order slot, which would be a more likely position for Rahane. We can only wonder if Rahane himself would have preferred a chance to show what he can do in the middle order. Still, Rahane’s solid technique and temperament mean he will always be there or thereabouts.

Ambati Rayudu – 165 runs (average 165)

Rating – 9

In his two innings, Rayudu showed why he is the man who is currently in possession of the number 5 slot in the first-choice team. A dazzling century which earned him man of the match in the first ODI and a handy 41 showed why he has been reasonably successful in his short ODI career so far. Batting at three, Rayudu showed off his wonderful ball striking capabilities and probably made himself the favourite to be batting at 5 when India next turn out in blue.

Sanju Samson

Did not play

A late call-up following injury to Rayudu. Will get his chance in the future, although he may have been pushing Tiwary for selection in the last ODI.

Karn Sharma

Did not play

The leggie was not likely to play, but as Axar Patel was batting at 9 anyway, he may have been considered for the final ODI in place of the left arm spinner.

Mohit Sharma – 2 wickets (average 16.5)

Rating – 7

Played only the last ODI and put in a solid performance. Often troubled the Zimbabwean batsmen with pace and used his wonderfully disguised back-of-the-hand slower ball to good effect. After a wonderful world cup, Mohit would have been keen for a good performance, but may now struggle to get in the team ahead of Kumar, Yadav and Harbhajan.

Sandeep Sharma

Did not play

Perhaps unlucky not to feature at all. India must have been tempted to select him alongside Kumar, which would have given Rahane a potentially lethal combination of yorker-bowlers at the death.

Manoj Tiwary – 34 runs (average 11.3)

Rating – 3

A woeful series and probably the worst of the Indian batsmen overall. Struggled consistently to get going and was optimised by an ugly 33-ball 10 in the final ODI. Many would have been disappointed to see him preferred to the exciting Samson, but the selectors stuck with the Bengal batsman. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver and will now have to go back to state cricket and score big runs in List-A matches, to attract the attention of the selectors once more.

Robin Uthappa – 44 runs (average 14.7)

Rating – 4

Showed once again that he is an extremely competent wicket keeper and, although he struggled badly, he is probably still India’s second choice to MS Dhoni. He was unlucky with a run out and an excellent delivery in the second game and if he keeps scoring runs in IPL cricket, he will probably cement himself as the regular captain’s understudy. He had a chance to push for the number 5 slot full time, but missed the opportunity.

Murali Vijay – 86 runs (average 28.7)

Rating – 5

Man of the match in the second game, but showed that test match batting is still very much his strength. In his 72 in the second ODI, he was only able to hit 3 boundaries, and his cautious style of leaving and blocking a lot of balls in the powerplay would not be in India’s favour in big run chases. It leaves Vijay with a hard choice – he can either try and re-invent himself, to become a more aggressive top order player, with the risk of losing his natural instinct of leaving the ball well which has served him so well in test matches, or he can be content that he will perhaps never be a Dhawan/Warner dasher at the top and focus on honing his already brilliant test skills. Either way, it would be a surprise to see Vijay in the next ODI squad.

India player ratings for the ODI series V Zimbabwe