Missing pieces gradually fall into place for India

How India rose to No.1 in ODIs (1:01)

Three important changes in the past 18 months have transformed the ODI side (1:01)

India's dominance as a one-day team is well established by the fact that since their 2011 World Cup triumph, they have made it to the semi-final of an ICC tournament (World Cup and World T20) another five times in six tries. However, most of the time, the team was overextending itself.

They had to rely on a fast bowler with a busted knee at the 2015 World Cup. The batting was overly dependent on the start their openers could provide. While oppositions had players with the ability to hit any part of the ground and the freedom to accelerate from the start, India often had to delay their onslaught. They had to account for bowlers who first needed at least a par score on the board, and then 20 or 30 extra just in case.

Now, however, they have four quality seamers; last week one of them defended a total of 252. They have a street-smart legspinner and a left-arm wristspinner for shock and awe. They have a finisher who can hit sixes off the first ball. Now, they have resources.

The punisher

Since the mellowing of MS Dhoni, India have not had a six-hitter who can put so much pressure on an opposition that they fear his arrival. But that is slowly starting to change.

"Against [Hardik] Pandya, who is a dangerous hitter, if you get it just a little bit wrong, he hits you out of the park," Australia's stand-in coach David Saker said in Bengaluru. "It's a learning curve for all of us bowling to him. He's a very good talent and he particularly likes to play against spin by the looks of things."

The stats support that statement - 51 runs in 28 balls off Adam Zampa and 37 in 20 balls off Ashton Agar. Pandya has cleared the boundary 28 times in 14 innings this year; only Rohit Sharma has fared better. And only a year after his debut, he is among the top 25 six-hitters for India in 50-over cricket.

His influence, and perhaps more belief in the squad at their disposal, has meant India's middle order is daring to score quicker. The strike-rates of Nos 4 through 7 have increased eight points, from 88 to 96, when comparing the two years leading up to the 2015 World Cup and the two years after it.

India have the makings of a new finisher and, in theory, that allows a highly talented top order to take more risks, which means a batting line-up that is already known for making 300-plus can push the bar even higher. Or they can recover from dreadful situations. Pandya's 83 in Chennai led India to only their 13th victory in the 61 occasions they have found themselves five down for less than 90 against other top-nine nations.

A twist in the middle

India went to the Champions Trophy with two fingerspinners. They insisted on having one in Sri Lanka as well, when, sans the pressure of an ICC tournament, they could freely experiment. It took an injury for them to finally pair their two wristspinners together and Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav proved themselves more than capable against Australia.

The advantage they offer was particularly apparent in Indore, when they yanked a score of 224 for 1 down to 243 for 4 between the 38th and 43rd overs. Aaron Finch was gone for 124, Steven Smith for 63 and Glenn Maxwell for 5 and Australia were forced to settle for a total of 294 when they looked good for 350.

Clumps of wickets in the middle overs - the closer to the 40th the better - pushes a team to rebuild at exactly the time they need to launch. Wristspinners are well-placed to accomplish this and that applies all the more to Chahal and Kuldeep because they turn the ball both ways and can exploit the premeditation batsmen indulge in when they are desperate to score quickly. In Scooby Doo parlance, they're the new meddling kids.

Since April 2015, the top four wicket-takers in overs 25 to 40 in ODis have been Adil Rashid, Imran Tahir, Graeme Cremer and Rashid Khan. Wristspinners all. India were late to realise this, but they're starting to make up lost ground.

The final flourish

For long, India have envied other nations for their fast-bowling talent. Now, the captain of the reigning world champions has said that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are the world's best at closing an innings out. And when their most recent performance ensured only 52 runs are conceded in the last 10 overs, taking five wickets, and bowling a maiden in the 45th, it is easy to see why Steven Smith said what he said.

Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, India have taken 111 wickets between the 40th and 50th overs - only Australia have fared better. And since Bumrah's debut, he has both delivered the most balls (323) and taken the most wickets (26) in this period of play. Remarkably, he has kept an economy rate of 6.3.

Bhuvneshwar, meanwhile, is starting to become the bowling leader. He takes the tough overs at the start, with only two fielders outside the circle, and then in the death overs, when he doesn't really have the advantage of express pace or a strange action. What he does possess is the skill to place the ball at more or less the area where the batsman doesn't want it. In the first ten overs, it's that in-between length that doesn't allow for the drive or the pull and in the last 10, it's yorkers.

And when these frontline quicks are unavailable, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav aren't half bad replacements. India have developed a reliable pool of bowlers - both spin and pace - to complement their traditional batting firepower. Now, for the next year and a half, it's all about gaining experience to stand up to the demands of a World Cup away from home.