After a disappointing loss to England in the third match of the ODI series on Tuesday, former India captain Sourav Ganguly has identified lack of quality in the Indian middle-order as the main drawback in the ODI side.
India lost the three-match series 1-2 after a batting failure left them with a below par 256 to defend against the famed English batting at Headingley. The hosts didn't have to break a sweat as they chased the target with the loss of just two wickets and more than five overs to spare.
In an exclusive interview with IndiaTV, Ganguly singled out the dismal performance of the middle-order as the key issue plaguing the Indian ODI side at the moment.
"England have a good bowling unit. Out batting is top-heavy and the selectors will have to take care of the issue. Rohit (Sharma), (Shikhar) Dhawan and (Virat) Kohli handle the top order, but once either of the three get out, the pressure falls on the middle-order. We need to have more quality in the middle-order and the selectors will have to look into the matter. We won in South Africa because Kohli hit three centuries in six ODI matches which sealed the matches for the team," Ganguly told IndiaTV.
'Dada', as he is fondly known, also said that that he was surprised at the decision to drop KL Rahul. "We should have quality batsmen in the 4th and 5th position. I was surprised when they dropped KL Rahul. You shouldn't drop a good player so early. Rahane doesn't deserve to be on the bench either and I think there is a place for him in the team," he asserted.
Suresh Raina is one of the players in the muddle that the Indian middle order has become of late. With just 47 runs in the series at a strike-rate of 70, the left-hander, in Dada's view, is not performing his role the way he should.
"As a senior player, Suresh Raina hasn't been upto the mark in this series. To bat at the No. 4 spot, you have to play like the top order does."
However, the Prince of Kolkata defended wicket-keeper MS Dhoni who has been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism due to his uncharacteristic slow batting.
"Dhoni seemed stuck out there. We have to talk to Dhoni about how he wants to play one-day cricket. Raina, Dhoni and Karthik, they're all No. 6 batsmen. They will have to bring in quality batsmen to fill the 4th and 5th spot," he added.
During the second ODI at Lord's, Dhoni was also booed by the stadium crowd after not being able to score freely. This behaviour of the fans hasn't impressed the former captain.
"The people shouldn't boo Dhoni. He's one of the greats. I don't think we will ever find a player like him in the times to come. He got stuck out there, couldn't rotate the strike. He should start hitting because that's his natural game. One starts questioning his abilities, as to whether he can perform in the same fashion like he did before. In 2005, he used to hit bowlers in any conditions. In Pakistan, he went and hit sixes all around. The team management should sit and talk to him, give him the No.6 spot and tell him to get back to his natural game," advised Ganguly.
Ganguly, who played 113 Test for India, also didn't stop short of crediting England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan for the series victory.
"England made a fantastic comeback, (Joe) Root and Morgan played exceptionally well. I would give credit to Morgan for making two vital decisions after winning the toss at Lord's (opt to bat) and Headingley (opt to bowl). They are a good ODI side and I'm not surprised that they won as they haven't lost many series at home. I thought India could go all the way after the Nottingham performance, but England made a remarkable return in the series" : he stated.
When asked how India managed to lose the series after having won the T20I series against the same opposition and then being 1-0 up in the ODIs, Ganguly pointed out England's handling of Kuldeep as the main reason.
"England found a way to negate Kuldeep. On these conditions if you rely on one player to get wickets, you're fairly mistaken. He did brilliantly well in the T20Is and the 1st ODI, but England somehow managed to counter him."
Also, the three changes that were brought about in the final ODI, including the decision to drop Umesh Yadav and bring in Bhuvneshwar Kumar were criticized by Ganguly, who feels that the World Cup is still far away for Kohli to be experimenting so much with young players.
"Bhuvneshwar was rusty on the field. He has been one of the most consistent players for the past three years. I was also shocked to see Umesh and Kaul dropped. You shouldn't keep in mind the World Cup as it's still far away from now. Our team has the capability to win it. Kohli will have to keep in mind the frequent changes he keeps making."
With the limited-overs leg of the tour done and dusted, the teams are now preparing for a six-week long duel in the longest format, starting August 1 in Birmingham. Ganguly said India will need to pull up their socks and stop being over-reliant on spinners if they want to win the Test series.
"In England, it's upto the fast bowlers to take wickets as one cannot rely on the spinners all the time. The real test comes in August (5 Tests).
"It's a massive series. They need to make runs and win matches. England have an experienced team with Anderson and Broad out there. Kohli will have to figure out a way to counter them. India have a chance, but they will have to buckle up," concluded Ganguly.