Handed a shock defeat in the opening match, world number one India would look to plug their batting loopholes when they square off against a gutsy New Zealand in the second cricket one-dayer on Wednesday.
Chasing a formidable 293 in the opening game in Napier, India seemed on track for a comfortable win before a middle-order collapse gutted them against the world number 8 home team.
What lay exposed was India’s over-reliance on a certain Virat Kohli, left standing tall amid ruins with a sparkling hundred. But Suresh Raina’s form has been a big concern, while the two openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have not given India the flourishing start expected of them.
Also, India’s bowling will have to be a lot sharper in the coming matches given that the home batsmen negotiated the visiting attack without much difficulty in the series-opener.
With pacer Ishant Sharma and off-spinner R Ashwin not making much of an impression in overseas conditions, it remains to be seen whether the team management will consider making changes to the bowling line-up.
At Seddon Park tomorrow, the visitors would be hoping for an encore from Kohli and better contributions from others in the line-up.
It is no secret that the team`s fortunes are heavily dependent on Kohli`s bat. His hundred the other day was his 18th overall in just 126 matches, with another 28 fifties to boot.
It is important to note that out of the 46 times he has scored a half-century or more, India finished victorious in 32 matches.
Furthermore, in 24 games out of this small set, the team batted second and Kohli`s affinity for run-chases is only too well known. He scored his 12th hundred in an ODI chase on Sunday, 11 of which in the past have resulted in victories.
The worrying bit in these statistics is that 14 of those 32 victories — inclusive of nine hundreds by Kohli — for India have come in the last two years, while the rest 18 were recorded in his first four years of playing ODI cricket since he made his debut in August 2008.
This highlights the ever-increasing dependency of the batting line-up on Kohli and with just one year to go for the ODI World Cup in Australia-New Zealand, that is a worrisome thought.
Perhaps, it starts at the top of the order. Rohit Sharma`s scores in three ODIs in South Africa and New Zealand so far have been 18, 19 and 3.
Shikhar Dhawan`s scores in the same matches have been 12, 0 and 32. Their best partnership during this time is 15 runs, put up in Napier, while together they scored 14 and 10 in Johannesburg and Durban. India have lost all three matches.
Compare this with their brilliant run last year until the West Indies series at home when they put up 1247 runs in 22 matches at an average of 59.38 helping the team win on 16 instances.
The most famous ones were in the 2013 Champions Trophy (in England) when they scored 127, 101, 58, 77 and 19 in five matches.
Clearly they have the ability to score good runs despite conditions favouring bowlers, just that they have been out-of-touch of late.
That it has happened at the same time for both of them heaps the onus on Kohli and in turn puts greater pressure on the middle order.
This is where the problem gets compounded since the number four and five batsmen haven`t really contributed much to the Indian cause.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was vocal about this aspect after defeat in the first ODI on this tour, blaming the middle order for “inconsistency” and affecting the lower middle order`s ability to chase down targets.