There is no end to the story of India’s pathetic overseas show. After the humiliating drubbing that they received in England, the script remained the same for the first of the four Test series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
India lost the match which they should have won. And the most worrying factor is that they made the same mistakes which they did in Britain. There were no lessons learnt from the hammerings that they received on the English soil.
Here’s an attempt to unravel the reasons behind India’s downfall in the first Test Down Under:
Lack of application from the batsmen: Indian batsmen have failed to put up more than 300 runs in any of the overseas Tests that they have played for quite some time now. Batting, which is supposed to be our strength, has actually become our nemesis on foreign shores. The way our celebrated batsmen have been batting in recent times has brought back memories of the nineties when Indian batsmen surrendered most of the times when they were bowled over the waists. This is all the more surprising when you consider the presence of Sachin, Dravid and Laxman - the former two being all time greats in Tests - in the Indian line-up. Can we dare ask – have reflexes started to elude them?
Poor start: The role of the openers is as important to a Test team as Anna Hazare is to Team Anna. Without a solid opening stand, it’s very difficult to win overseas where the ball does a lot of talking in the initial overs. It was due to the performance of the opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra in 2003 Australia tour that India did well for the first time Down Under and shed the tag of poor travellers’.
Sehwag and Gambhir have not fired together for a long time now. Sehwag did play bravely in the first innings and made a scratchy fifty, but he failed to fire in the second innings when his knock could have changed the equation of the match.
On the other hand, time seems to be running out for Gautam Gambhir who, since 2010, has scored 994 runs at 32.06 with just one century in 18 Tests. Gambhir, who was hailed by his opening mate Sehwag as the best Indian opener after Sunil Gavaskar a few years back, had been consistence personified till the middle of 2010. A no-nonsense cricketer, Gambhir must know that without runs at Sydney he cannot be in the team anymore. The way he got out while flirting outside the off-stump deliveries in both the innings, sent a shiver down the spine of every Test-educated person in India.
Ganguly’s place still vacant: The catastrophe of Indian batting performance can be summed up by a satirical tweet which says, “Breaking: Sourav Ganguly recalled to the Indian team for rest of the Test series in Australia.” It’s been more than three years since former India captain Sourav Ganguly decided (or, was forced) to retire from the international cricket with an aim to infuse youth in the team. Ganguly was in amazing form at that time. After all these years, his No. 6 spot in the Test line-up is still laying vacant. In the meanwhile lots of players went in and out of the team. But nobody could cement his position in Ganguly’s place. Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli have been tried out at different times without much success. The thought of a time when Sachin, Dravid and Laxman decide to pull the curtains down on their careers gives us sleepless nights.
Bowlers’ inability to get the lower-order out cheaply: India changed forever since they decided to get rid of the license-permit raj and connect to the outside world. It brought economic changes in the country, the results of which can be seen in every sphere of our lives including sports. Some of the rare things which it did not touch was the influence it had on our bowlers to demolish the opposition’s lower-order out quickly. There was a time when ace spinner Anil Kumble used to gobble up the tailenders on the spin-friendly pitches in India. But there has always been a tremendous problem in wrapping up the tails on foreign lands. And this is one of the main reasons that India lost the MCG Test. In both the innings the Australian tail wagged and India had no answers to counter them. In the end, it proved to be decisive.
There is hardly any doubt that the bowlers performed better than the batters during the Boxing Day Test. Umesh Yadav was fantastic. Zaheer bowled well with the old cherry. Ashwin bowled well in patches. But there was hardly any time in the Test when the Australian batsmen were kept under pressure from both the ends. Individually they were good but they failed to fire together. Unless the bowling forms some sort of combination and pacers start hunting in pairs, it will be very difficult to win this series in Australia.
Captain defensive: No one has ever doubted Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s credential in limited overs cricket. Be it as a batsman or the captain of the side. But his record in Tests, especially outside sub-continent is pretty mediocre. Though his overall record as a Test captain is still very good, he looks completely out of sorts whenever he is team needs him to think out of the box. In the four Tests in England, the ‘captain cool’ looked a man under tremendous pressure. That he is not making runs on foreign tours is affecting his decision making. Melbourne was no different. His decision to let the Australian No. 10 and 11 score easily baffled everyone and he came under scathing criticism. If he is captain cool in ODIs and T20s, he is certainly captain defensive in Tests played outside the sub-continent.
If nothing works, Dhoni must seek an audience of Ganguly, presently doing commentary of India-Australia Test series, and learn how to lead a team when the going gets tough on foreign tours. He is certainly the man who knows a few tricks to torment the Aussies.
Lack of Preparation: It may sound clichéd but India looked terribly unprepared in the first Test. There was no change of approach from the batsmen. There was no proper planning to tackle the Australian pacers. It was not surprising to see the best Indian batsmen get bowled in at Melbourne. Unlike the Australian Cricket Board, the BCCI took no lessons from the English drubbing. There was not a single committee to look into the massacre, let alone the corrective measures. What was the point in arranging a home series against the lowly West Indies before an all important Australian tour? Why was no batting camp arranged to prepare for the hard and bouncy tracks Down Under?
Not seizing the opportunity: Good teams are those which win matches from the jaws of defeat. They do not allow the opposition to crawl back into the game. They go for the kill when they have the oppositions on the mat. India had their chances but somehow they squandered those. When they started day 3, India were in the driver’s seat, just 119 shy of Australia’s first innings total with 7 wickets remaining. Had the batsmen applied themselves a little better, they would not have found themselves at the receiving end. Again on the morning of day 4, they failed to get the last two Aussie batsmen out early. It’s very rare that you get two chances to win a Test match and seal the decision in your favour. India had their chances, but they frittered those away!