New Delhi: Mahendra Singh Dhoni landed in Australia leading a marquee Indian team but now, midway through the Test series, they look rather like a slice of Swiss cheese with more holes than possibly can be plugged.
Mauled in Melbourne and spanked in Sydney - inside four days on both occasions - India`s hopes of winning their first Test series in Australia have swiftly evaporated and they have confirmed their status as cricket`s slowest starters and poorest travellers.
For a team that traditionally rely on their batsmen to put enough runs on the board and give that extra cushion to their bowlers, India virtually conceded the Sydney Test when their first innings folded for 191 inside 60 overs.
Australia responded with a mammoth 659-4 declared to prove there was no demon in the pitch.
India put up a better show in the second innings, managing 400, but that was not enough to avert a moral-shattering innings and 68-run defeat.
Barring Sachin Tendulkar, engaged in a seemingly endless pursuit for his 100th international century, most of the Indian batsmen were plagued by the same vices that were so evident in Melbourne.
Even Rahul Dravid`s otherwise impregnable defence, which has earned him the sobriquet `The Wall`, has been breached four times in the series so far, including by a Peter Siddle no-ball in Melbourne.
The problem with most of his team mates seem to be their inability to resist the temptation of fishing outside off-stump to play each and every ball, a habit blamed on the endless limited overs matches they play.
"Look at guys like Rahul Dravid. He`s playing so far ahead of the pad because of his bat speed, which is more of a limited over bat speed than the slow Test match bat speed," former India captain Sunil Gavaskar told a TV channel.
Dravid, the second most prolific batsman in the history of Test cricket behind Tendulkar, played the last of his 344 one-dayers in September last year but continues to play in the Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition.
Dhoni, however, would find it tougher to defend his frontline bowlers, all four having conceded 100-plus runs in Sydney.
Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan (3-122) removed all three southpaws in the Australian top order to reduce the hosts to 37 for three but once again proved not the same force against right-handers.
His new ball colleague Umesh Yadav was a bigger disappointment, conceding 123 runs off 24 futile overs and finishing without a wicket.
Ishant Sharma (1-144) clocked 150 kmph but had just one wicket to show, dismissing Ricky Ponting on day two when he and his bowling colleagues bled 366 runs for that lone success.
"We are getting very excited about 150 kmph being clocked. What good is it? You should get wickets. That`s what India need. Otherwise, Australia would keep on piling 600 runs," said a furious Gavaskar.
"BOWLING PRETTY WELL"
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who conceded 157 runs without success, was adamant the bowlers did their best.
"The pacers were going hard and really bending their back," Ashwin told reporters on Wednesday.
"We can`t really fault the efforts of the bowlers. They ran in hard, Ishant was clocking 140 in the final spell. That`s all you can expect from the fast bowlers," said the spinner.
"I haven`t landed anything short, I have not delivered anything full. I have not really bowled many bad balls. I think I have been bowling pretty well.”
"The wicket column has to reflect it but I`m not someone who`s going to read (too much) into that."
Determination, and not defiance, is what Dhoni would demand from his bowlers when the third test begins at Perth on Friday.
For a captain ready to do whatever it takes to arrest the slide, Dhoni is unlikely to mind if his bowlers try what former Australia test player Dean Jones advised.
"Grow a moustache and look angry," Jones told a TV channel.