Sydney Test: Mauled at MCG and now surrendered at SCG

Updated: Jan 08, 2012, 00:52 AM IST

Vineet Ramakrishnan

During the England tour, India lost the Test series 0- 4 and there was a natural progression in all the defeats – at Lord’s India lost by 196 runs; at Nottingham the visitors were demolished by 319 runs and subsequently, the last two Tests had the score-lines of innings defeat without hampering the above mentioned natural progression.

Now in Australia, Dhoni and Co. seem to be maintaining the sequence with an innings and 68 runs beat down at SCG after being pummelled at Melbourne by 122 runs. Definitely, this is not an ideal start for India in the year 2012. This pasting at Sydney now means that India would not be conquering the final frontier this time around as well. The ‘Agneepath’ series unfortunately has so far failed to bring out any spark, and with the bouncy pitch of WACA awaiting Team India in the next fixture, the fire demons are clearly in favour of the Oz.

Session-wise knockout by the hosts

Test matches, as is known, are won by sessions, and that is exactly what Australia did. It was a boxing bout like score of 11-1 in favour of Australia out of the total 12 sessions which was played out during the four days. As was the case in England, India lost out in the first session here at Sydney even after winning the toss and from there on, the visitors were playing catch up.

Getting bowled out for a paltry 191, that too on a batting friendly wicket in the first innings not only puts you on the backfoot but it gives the opposition the boost to capitalise. Even after Zaheer’s Khan’s triple strike, Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting went about their business unfazed as if they were batting first and this was due to the psychological advantage they were enjoying looking at the Indian score of 191. That is not even a winning score in T20 these days, let alone a competitive first innings score in a Test.

Zaheer’s burst first up was the opening India wanted desperately, but when you fail to seize the opportunity, others take advantage. And if the others happen to be the 3rd highest run-getter in Tests and his prodigy; the chances of you getting a sniff at the opportunity again is almost extinguished. With the advantage lost, one would have expected Dhoni to be proactive but he failed miserably. Dhoni seems to have this mental blockage when it comes to Test or he just waits for things to happen rather than forcing his own way.

In the morning session of the second day, India could have redeemed themselves by coming full throttle but their extra effort was reminiscent to that of F1 driver Lewis Hamilton’s 2011 season – directionless. The fact that Australia were able to amass 366 runs in the day with Clarke scoring a personal 200 and losing a solitary wicket illustrated India’s lack of planning and execution. The bowlers bore the brunt of it, but what exactly were they given to play with by the famed batting line-up?

The once famed batting line-up crumbled

In the last 19 innings, Indian batsmen have managed a score of over 300 runs only thrice and one over 400 here in Sydney. Even this 400 was mainly due to Ravichandran Ashwin’s cheeky half century as the top order was bundled for under 270. So what is wrong with the formidable Indian batting line-up? Virender Sehwag is supposedly the poster boy of Test cricket; Gautam Gambhir, according to Viru is the best opening bat after Sunil Gavasakar; Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid cannot put a foot wrong in the longer format of the game; Sachin Tendulkar… well he is ‘The Sachin Tendulkar’; VVS Laxman against Australia should be like Lionel Messi against the Indian football team; Virat Kohli is touted to be the next big thing of Indian cricket and Dhoni, well he is ‘Captain Cool’ ain’t?

But somehow, like in England, they are failing to click as a unit. The reason behind this could be their personal forms. A long and substantial innings from Sehwag is overdue. His last big innings of 173 came against New Zealand in Ahmedabad, Nov. 2010. His last century scored out of the subcontinent was way back on 24 Jan. 2008 at Adelaide. Gambhir clearly needs to better his technique a bit against the moving ball if he wants to be successful outside the subcontinent. To put the blame on Rahul Dravid for this fiasco would be utterly unjust based on these four innings. Sachin Tendulkar however, has done reasonably well, but his knocks have not been that impactful in the context of the match. VVS Laxman shows his real class once in a blue moon, but we expect him to show his class Down Under once in every visible moon, right? But again in the context of the matches in 2011, Laxman has been reasonably successful. Virat Kohli is clearly feeling the heat of the Australian summer and has so far failed to bring in his ODI confidence to the Test level while Dhoni seems to forget all about batting when it comes to Tests.

The conclusion - - time to take some bold moves and make changes.

End Laxman’s Aussie fairytale saga

Well, the sub-header is a bit too harsh, but let’s try to put it in comparison to that of Michael Hussey. Hussey’s every innings is taken to be his last one in the Australian setup. Not because he is failing to perform, but because of the age factor. The Australian setup is looking to phase him out. However, with this knock he would be assured a place for the rest of the series. Bring in VVS Laxman in this mix, the Indian team management is failing to initiate the phasing out process. Talents like Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane, all are waiting in the wings but no one is willing to give them a chance. The axe might fall on Kohli for the third Test but it would be wise to drop Laxman for Sharma retaining Kohli for the last two Tests, thus giving both of them a proper opportunity.

Wanted: Dhoni the batsman

Also, Mahendra Singh Dhoni the batsman has gone under the radar for too long. The basic fault in Dhoni’s otherwise not so pathetic Test form is that he is not able to occupy the crease in Tests and is not able to play around with the tail as he has done successfully in the ODIs. This lack of form is clearly hampering Dhoni’s captaincy in the longer version of the game. Also, if Dhoni is able to break free from his mental blockage in Tests, there is no better person to fill in Ganguly’s vacant No. 6 position than him. With Ashwin proving to be more than just a tail-ender, the offie could be accommodated at No. 7 with Dhoni moving at up at No. 6, giving India the option of playing an extra bowler.

But the immediate worry for Team India would be the pace and bounce of the WACA, and Perth could be the place where a rejuvenated Australia would unleash their pace barrage to knockout an already dazed and disillusioned India.