On the eve of the game against Pakistan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made it clear he wasn’t a big fan of the recent ODI rule changes.
These alterations — new ball from either end, five fielders inside the circle at all times, two bouncers per over and just the one (batting) powerplay which will have to be enforced before the 40th over — have come into effect since November, but Sunday marked the first time India would be playing under adjusted conditions.
The ICC’s argument is that these changes make the middle overs more interesting. The tinkering only made one-day cricket less unique, pushing it into the slam-bang territory occupied by T20s and the harder ball and decreased patrolling of the boundaries left the spinners exposed, Dhoni demurred.
The more encompassing of Dhoni’s objections, the distress regarding ODIs losing their identity, might well be genuine, but he would also know that the new rules left his bowling unit more exposed.
It is no secret that the Indian ODI outfit is more comfortable chasing than setting targets, the batting strength making up for the lack of match winners with the ball. In the last three years, India have won 31 of 44 games (70.45 per cent) batting second and only 16 of 35 (45.71 per cent) batting first.
The current batch of changes do not load the balance in favour of batsmen so much as they reward bowling accuracy. The bowler who can keep it tight will now force batsmen into risking the shot over the top as opposed to letting the game drift in singles and twos. If that is so, then the absence of Zaheer Khan and the reliance on part-timers, as Sunday showed, dilute India’s bowling threat further.
The 10 wicket-less overs Yuvraj, Raina and Kohli sent down cost 77 when all India had to defend was 227. As for the pacemen and the leeway with the short ball, Dhoni’s response sums it up best. “We are not using even one, where will we bowl two?”
Raakesh is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi.