Studying engineering and business administration couldn't satiate his mind and in 2007, Chetan Narula found his calling as a sportswriter/journalist. Since then he was written on cricket, F1 and football at various avenues not only in India but also in USA and UK. He also worked as cricket commentator (voice) at ESPN for their mobile and web platforms, doing over a hundred matches. High points of his career include witnessing history at Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai) when India lifted the ODI World Cup and his first book, Skipper: A Definitive Account of India's Greatest Captains, which hits bookstores in July 2011. His Twitter feed is here.
One-day cricket is fighting hard for survival. And this truth is reflected much from the myriad rule changes undertaken by the ICC every couple of years. The excuse given is simple; to make the fifty-over format more relevant in today's burgeoning international schedule.
Of course this tinkering does prove a sticking point for all. The best example herein is the four fielders' outside 30-yard circle rule. This is going to challenge even the best of teams, for all bowlers - including part-timers - will have to start re-thinking their bowling plans. For the medium-pacers, on hard and bouncy decks, the two-bouncers-per-over rule might just help. The spinners however will find no place to hide unless they adapt quickly. Perhaps this was also the reason that made Harbhajan Singh cry out loud on Twitter against the new rules, despite the fact that he is nowhere close to playing an ODI game in the near future.
Even so, it will take some doing for teams to get accustomed and settle down once again in their plans. These rules shall definitely be applicable for the Champions Trophy in England this summer and that has to be the marker all captains will set when they sit down to brood over possible changes in strategy. If successfully adapted, it is quite possible that the ICC will carry forth these rules to the 2015 ODI World Cup as well.
Therefore, for a team that is struggling to make an impact in any of the three formats, the path ahead in at least one of them couldn't be more straight-forward. In that lies an opportunity, nay, blueprint for Indian cricket.
Let us first consider the road-block here. India play a whole lot of ODIs both home and abroad, and this could easily force people into thinking that different resources might be needed to navigate through them. This is far from the truth, if you consider the two-new-balls rule and the small evidence provided by the Pakistan series.
Three of the top four bowlers were medium pacers and two of them were Indians, surprisingly. Ishant Sharma bowled well, and consistently for a change, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the bowler the arch-rivals feared the most. In nippy conditions, Shami Ahmed proved a handful on debut as well. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bowled 50 overs between them. For a captain who relies heavily on part-timers, Dhoni gave only six overs to his go-to man Yuvraj Singh, while Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli together bowled seven.
After the win in Delhi, Dhoni was quite honest about his plans. "The four-fielder rule doesn't allow us to use part-timers as effectively and therefore didn't use Yuvraj much. We are giving him a chance to practice bowling with five fielders in the circle first. It helped that Jadeja bowled well, otherwise we would have had to use Yuvraj," he said.
In essence then, if Jadeja had been tanked around, India would have gotten stuck and probably lost the third ODI as well. It underlines the need for a five-bowler attack going forward. But this is a team that historically relies heavily on seven-batsmen, thus the onus on finding an allrounder to provide that balance to the side. And no, Jadeja is not that man.
As useful a player he is in limited-overs, he is hampered by his many limitations, pun unintended. The fact that Ashwin - deemed a proper batsman by team management on umpteen occasions - pads up before him says much about the confidence in Jadeja
s batting ability. Furthermore, his wicket-to-wicket bowling, deprived of variations isn't useful on all pitches, especially featherbeds. The Asia Cup in Bangladesh last year proved as much. Moreover, away from home, India seldom go in with two full-time slow-ball bowlers, especially now with new balls available from both ends.
Thus, even if Jadeja holds his spot when India play at home, the urgency to find a fast-bowling all-rounder is very rousing. It lays import on the need to get a player like Irfan Pathan back to full fitness and giving him a long rope to see if he can be rejuvenated into this role. Alternately, you can also put in a medium-pacer who can bat a little (read occasionally) at number eight, say Praveen Kumar. If six batsmen won't do the job, seven won't either, as the saying goes.
This, in turn, highlights what the key area of focus is. Depending on match conditions, India will need to play either four bowlers with a spin/pace allrounder or indeed five bowlers, and therefore, they need to identify six batsmen who will score for them irrespective of where they are playing. And this process starts with sorting out the mess that is the opening pair.
One of the top three has to bat for thirty overs and provide a platform for Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj to do their job. Consider then, that Virender Sehwag may have played his last ODI and Gautam Gambhir seems to have only three matches remaining to prove a point if at all there is one. (If, and when, Manoj Tiwary gets a look in, he is bound to bat anywhere from No's 5 to 7.)
So the choice comes down to Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli. The first is bound to open and his opening partner can be either of the latter two. Given his proficiency at number three, Pujara might indeed be the man to open for India in ODIs. If so, it will only be the first step.