The 2023 Asia Cup was being looked at as the perfect dry run ahead of the World Cup in India with conditions in Sri Lanka closely mirroring those that are expected for the showpiece event.
And on either side of a thumping 228-run win against Pakistan in the Super Four stage, Rohit Sharma’s men were dealt with lessons they may want to heed. While India lost all 10 wickets to the pacers against Pakistan in a washout at Pallekele, the Lankan spinners spun a web to claim all 10 Indian scalps in Colombo.
It is perhaps the rivalry with Pakistan combined with the adrenaline-inducing sight of pace rattling the stumps that will make the 266 all out stand out like a sore thumb. However, if the Indians chose to ignore being dismissed for 213 on a turner by summoning the fig leaf of playing for a third consecutive day, it will be at their own peril.
It is true the Indian top-order has a problem with left-arm pace, but the chinks against left-arm spin are equally, if not more, glaring and concerning, especially given the prevalent conditions at some venues that will host the World Cup.
Be it Shakib Al Hasan at Mirpur, Ashton Agar at Chennai or even Gudakesh Motie at Bridgetown, left-arm spinners have been more than a handful for India’s star-studded batting line-up. Dunith Wellalage only reinforced India’s vulnerability against that type of bowling with a five-wicket haul on Tuesday.
Even before dwelling on individual numbers, the team-wise figures clearly tell a story. In 2020, Indian batters had the highest average against left-arm spin in ODIs (79.75) and only 6.45 percent of the team’s total wickets fell to it. In 2023, India is 11th on that list with an average of 32.20 and loses almost 15 percent of its batters against left-arm spinners.
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were among the victims of Wellalage’s guile, and their numbers starkly point to a dwindling skill. Rohit boasts of a career average of 103.11 against left-arm spin, which has dipped to 47 since 2020. For Kohli, the fall is even more precipitous as the average nosedives from an overall of 64.86 to 21.0 since 2020.
Additionally, he has been dismissed by left-arm spinners in more than half (56.25 %) of the total number of innings in which he has faced them since 2020, while the corresponding figure for his overall career is just over 22 percent.
Both Rohit and Kohli’s strike rate has also dipped significantly against left-arm spin since 2020, indicating that it is not really a case of them losing their wicket while trying to take on the bowling.
Shreyas Iyer and Rahul, billed as spine of India’s middle-order at the World Cup, have also seen their averages plummet during this period, though they haven’t played too many games before 2020.
Suryakumar Yadav, who is their likely backup, has an average of 17.28 against left-arm spin and has been dismissed seven out of 16 times that he has been confronted with it.
Hardik Pandya, who primarily bats in the late overs, is the only one who holds his own, averaging 36.50 since 2020 as compared to a career average of 29.66 against left-arm spin.
Though the numbers against left-arm spinners are grim, those against spin in general aren’t very flattering either. Rohit’s overall average against the tweakers has fallen from 71 to 37.28 in the last four years, Kohli’s from 69.36 to 42.14 and Iyer’s from 81.62 to 56.37.
In keeping with the trend, they have also been victims of spin bowling with increasing and alarming frequency.
Only Rahul and Pandya have been able to maintain their healthy averages, in excess of 50 in both pre and post 2020 phases, against the spinners.
In comparison, while left-arm pacers have presented India’s top-order with difficulties, they seem more pronounced largely owing to the context, be it the 2019 World Cup semifinal or the 2021 T20 World Cup match against Pakistan.
Rohit’s average drops to 25.71 since 2020 against left-arm seamers while Kohli’s slumps to 36.25, from an overall career average of 46.68, in the corresponding period. Though certainly instructive, the dip isn’t as steep as that against spin bowling.
Meanwhile, Rahul and Iyer and Pandya’s numbers against left-arm pace have significantly improved in the past four years.
Ishan Kishan, though a left-hander, also exhibits similar failings, scoring just over 33 against left-arm spin, as compared to 50.56 against left-arm seam.
India’s spinners eventually managed to bail the batters out against Sri Lanka, but pulling off such a heist won’t be as easy against a more settled batting line-up.
If India chooses to look elsewhere or brushes off its showing with the bat in Colombo on Tuesday as an anomalous off-day, it could be in for a rude shock at the World Cup in conditions that it thinks are favourable.