It can only be limited overs cricket. But the cost of Rohit Sharma’s absence in the Test series in South Africa last winter (due to injury) and last week’s Edgbaston Test against England (due to Covid) is becoming very clear.
The Indian captain’s authority, calm and control make a dramatic difference for the tourists in the team’s campaigns.
After winning the T20I series 2-1 on Sunday, the Indians defeated England in the first ODI of the three-match series on Tuesday. The visiting team did not lose a wicket before crossing the finishing line after bowling out the home team for 110, winning the game by 10 wickets. It unceremoniously stamped India’s superiority over England.
Whereas in the modern era, the coach and colleagues are consulted as to what the team should choose if they win the toss, the responsibility of the final decision rests with the captain. Batting first and setting goals were the mantras in the recently concluded T20Is, which were played in the afternoon and evening.
The first ODI was also day-night. It was 32 °C, sunny and cloudy, the latter rising rapidly. The pitch had momentum and the dry grass on it had tied the seams instead of helping them in any way.
In the end, it is easy for the pundits to say that it was not good to bowl first. But with the ease with which Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root (both were back in the England XI for this match) smashed the Indian pacers at Edgbaston, the hosts got a psychological advantage. Furthermore, over the past seven years, England have been more powerful in white-ball cricket than in the red-ball format, including winning streaks. World Cup 2019.
Sharma’s faith in his fast bowlers did not diminish. In the humid conditions caused by the scorching heat in England, he turned the ball disappointingly. Data compiled on Sky’s coverage showed that the white ball at the Kia Oval (the venue of the match) has never swung much. It tilted an average of 1.29 degrees, surpassing the previous record. This, considering the fact that no exponent in the Indian XI is a classical swing bowler, emphasized the role the natural environment plays in the game.
Jasprit Bumrah, freed from the arduous task of the stand-in captain, was phenomenal with figures of 6/19.
There is no animated treats or sledging in Sharma’s lead. But this Mumbai cricketer has an inner steel. He was misled by the media’s reaction to Kapil Dev’s call for introspection. Virat Kohli (injured and therefore rested in the game). This was most characteristic of Sharma, who was the PR face of Team India under Kohli.
But as heir to the Delhi star, he takes a stern view of his clearly declining predecessor, who has been one of the great batsmen of his generation. If you defend him you are damned, if you don’t you are cursed.
When India batted, the air environment was almost the same. But Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan’s experience shone through. Neither were doing their best, especially the left-handers. But with such a polite ask, they were in no hurry, though not at a snail’s pace. Sharma’s innings of 76 not out in 58 balls said everything.
A consistently dry surface could give spinners the upper hand with warm weather intensifying in the next ODI at Lord’s on Thursday.