For India coach Rahul Dravid, the ODI series against South Africa was an “eye-opener”. India lost the series 3-0 and Dravid felt it was “poor shots” that cost them the first and the third match.
In both those games, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli kept India’s chase on track but neither batter could convert their half-centuries into a big knock. Once Dhawan and Kohli got out, the middle and lower-middle order, in the absence of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, failed to finish the job.
In ODIs, India prefer a safety-first approach while batting. When asked if they should change that template, Dravid said, “We certainly could do better in the middle overs. We understand the template, and a large part of that template is dependent on the balance of your squad. Some of the guys who really help us balance out the squad and give us those all-round options at No. 6, 7 and 8 were not available for the selection. Hopefully, when they come back, it will give us a little more depth, which will allow us to play in a slightly different style.
“Having said that, even South Africa who batted first on two occasions scored 290  and 280 . If I think back to the 30th over [of the second innings] in both these games, we should have actually chased them down. We didn’t because we played some poor shots and we didn’t play smart cricket at critical situations.”
During the series, the Indian spinners were outbowled by their South African counterparts. While Dravid didn’t single out the spinners, he did say taking wickets in middle overs was something the team needed to work on. India tried something different on that front in the third ODI: their seamers hit the deck more often than they had done in the first two outings and fetched slightly better returns.
“I think through the middle overs we need to probably improve our wicket-taking options,” Dravid said. “Spinners do play a big role in that but also with the quicks coming back and the kinds of balls we bowl, we have discussed that. We do understand that’s an area in the game we have been behind a little bit – the ability to take wickets through the middle overs – and what we need to do about that.”
Before the series, stand-in captain KL Rahul had said the team was looking at Venkatesh Iyer as their sixth bowling option. However, Iyer wasn’t given an over in the first ODI, though he did bowl five in the second before being left out for the last one.
“When you are a sixth bowler in the team, it can happen you are not required to bowl,” Dravid explained. “The idea is obviously to try and develop people like Venkatesh Iyer as a sixth bowling option, whether it’s Venkatesh or Hardik when he comes back. We also have got the option of someone like Jadeja who has been batting really well and can potentially bat at No. 6 at certain times when he is back from the injury.”
There has been some discussion about Iyer’s batting position too but Dravid said the team management was “very clear with him” about his role in the side.
“I know he has batted at the top of the order for KKR [in the IPL] and at times for MP [Madhya Pradesh, Iyer’s domestic side], though he has batted in the middle order as well for MP. In our team, we were looking for a No. 6 who can be a sixth bowling option. That was the role we had for him here because we have quite a few options at the top of the order at this point, especially when Rohit comes back.”
One of the few positives for India in the series was Deepak Chahar’s performance with the bat in the last ODI. Chasing 288, India were 223 for 7 at one stage but Chahar, playing his first match of the series, struck 54 off just 34 balls to take them close. He had pulled off a similar chase in Sri Lanka but here India fell short by four runs.
Dravid was full of praise for Chahar and Shardul Thakur, who scored 50* and 40* in the first two ODIs while playing as seam-bowling allrounders.
“He [Chahar] has shown in the opportunities that he has got with us in Sri Lanka and over here as well that he has got some really good ability with the bat,” Dravid said. “I have seen him at India A as well and I know he can bat quite well. Obviously, we know what he can do with the ball. It’s nice to have people like him and Shardul, who we saw in the last couple of games being able to contribute with the bat as well. Such players, who can contribute with the bat lower down, make a big difference.
“We will certainly try to give him [Chahar] a few games along with Shardul and others who can step up over the next year or so.”
Apart from the allrounders, Dravid said the team was trying to give a longer run to their middle-order batters too.
“That was the whole idea even on this trip,” he said. “If you see, we didn’t really change the middle order, except Surya got a chance in the last match. Otherwise, we didn’t change the batting order at all. So we want to give them that consistent run and that security. Once you give people that, then you also got to demand performances and really big performances because that’s an expectation when you play at this level for your country.”