Why

Why

Sunday, 15 January 2012

PERTH: THE NADIR OF INDIAN BATTING


The wait was over and I was ecstatic to have woken up 15 minutes prior to the match and to see Indians batting first. “What better way to start a morning?” – I thought as I went to wash my face. It was 15 minutes past five and my mind went ahead of imagining India bat for the next two days and how I could sit at home on two non-working days just to watch the Indian batting line-up piling up the runs. Then the Buddha moment hit me – “Think only on the present and not ahead”. 

Ambling through the first few overs of the Test match Indians lost Sehwag and Dravid while Gambhir at the other end had decided he was not going to get out easily.  He was kept company by Tendulkar who hit three of the best drives one can see – one straight, an on-drive and to demonstrate his prowess on the off-side a cover drive which silenced all the demons people had to say about the pitch prior to the match. Both teams having opted for an all pace attack must have thought, have we made a right decision? It didn’t look like when Tendulkar was at the crease. Ryan Harris brought back after a fiery first spell took the prized wicket just when the master looked good for a big knock. Gambhir soon followed after having resisted the temptation outside the off-stump,  finally succumbed and nicked one to the keeper. Well, it isn’t the ideal start as India went into lunch on the first day after having inserted into bat by Michael Clarke.

The talk prior to the match was about giving youngsters a chance and the news of Rohit Sharma replacing VVS did the rounds. Well, Rohit will have to wait for his opportunity as Laxman retained his place and now had the responsibility to steer India to a decent total. He had Virat Kohli by his side and both looked good resurrecting the innings with 68 runs being added to their partnership. Kohli made his first major error of the day when he misread the length and ballooned his drive to Warner at deep point. And soon Laxman went for 31 following the dismissal of Kohli who made an impressive 44. With six wickets down, out came Ranganatha Vinay Kumar for the first time donning the Indian whites and thus became the latest entrant to the Test team. His brief stay at the crease yielded 5 runs and nine runs later Indians found themselves to be dismissed for 161.

At this point I felt embarrassed and I quite didn’t know how to react and I had a strong reason for this. It wasn’t just the collapse that made me feel exasperated but the manner in which the batting collapses have been taking place on the foreign soil. I cannot recall during my lifetime such a dismal performance overseas and the last time India lost consecutive six matches abroad, my mom was just nine years old. Now seriously there is an issue and the persistent problems over the past six months can’t be ignored or overlooked. With peanuts on the board to defend, bowlers had another shock in the manner David Warner went about his innings. He dominated right from the start and by the time the day ended he had a century to his name, Australia were 12 runs behind and having 10 wickets intact and to make matters worse only 23 overs were bowled. Can this get more worse? To give credit, where its due it reminded how Sehwag went about his innings and Warner, being Sehwag’s team mate at Delhi Daredevils showed what he is capable of. A product of T20, Warner showed it to the world 20-20 after all isn’t such a bad thing to cricket.

A new day comes with a new beginning never mind the scars that Indians carried coming into the second day. With pitch still assisting the bowlers, there was every possibility Indians could have turned it around. Not until a double century stand and gritty 65 by Ed Cowan, bowlers managed to take the first wicket. Umesh Yadav, easily the find of the series from India’s perspective took three quick wickets, Indians were in with a chance for a comeback. Dhoni persisted with Zaheer, Ishant and Yadav and the trio ensured Australians didn’t repeat their batting heroics of Sydney. At the stroke of tea,  Aussies were bowled out for 369 with Yadav claiming his first five wicket haul and Vinay Kumar his first scalp in Tests.

The final session of the second day, Indians did well to restrict the lead to 208 runs considering the way Warner destroyed the bowling on his way to a splendid 180. Having got the best start of this series, Gambhir got out to a bouncer from Starc while scoreboard was just 24. Sehwag got a peach from Siddle and that had top two run-getters in the world at the crease. From the looks of it, it wasn’t easy and it was only matter of time where another wicket would fall; that moment occurred on the 17th over when Starc was brought back after previously having bowled just an over, had Tendulkar plumb in front and Indians were three down.

The 10 year entertaining history of India-Australia Tests were started by the pair of Laxman and Dravid. It was their partnership  in Kolkata in 2001 that changed the course of the future bi-lateral series between the two cricket loving countries.  They had a huge task in hand. As the adage goes, “History repeats” – Will it be again them as they did in Kolkata, Adelaide etc?
For the sake of pride if not anything, India needed this pair to defend, cut the deficit and ensure the team reach a position from where they could have challenged for a win and come back into the series. My mind went too far ahead twice in as much days and before I could calm myself back to the reality, I saw Laxman edging to third slip Marsh and the man, I mean ‘The Man, the troubleshooter, the specialist’ was gone. Out for a duck, walking back to the pavilion in a manner as I have never seen him do. Did he just play his last stroke in international cricket?

It was just too much to take and that’s when the other side of reality hit me. If suffering is what makes India take strong steps ahead (referring to 2007 loss at the World Cup, 3-0 loss to Australia in 1999/2000 and followed by 2-0 loss at home to South Africa in 2000) so be it. Let this team suffer for the future’s sake as somewhere down the line we have to think about improving even while being on a winning streak. We love to live in the history and I am no different but somewhere the fascination shouldn’t overlook the present reality, that if not given a serious thought will hamper future’s growth.
With such thoughts I went to bed and no matter what the result (Was I still hoping for India’s victory??). A gritty fight by Kohli and Dravid raised the hopes of a fight back and the dreams were washed away when Dravid and Dhoni got out quickly. It was a matter of time and would have just been a consolation if Indians managed to make Australia bat again. With 43 runs behind and four wickets in hand it looked possible going into lunch. Post-lunch all it took the Oz bowlers was 20 balls to dismiss India for 171 and hand them a second consecutive innings defeat. Kohli the lone warrior among the batters managed to score more than 100 runs (both innings) in this Test.

How many times in the past two away series we hoped India would show their magic with the bat? The number goes to 14 at the end of this Test. The teams are allowed for missing out on runs and big scores occasionally; what sort of a Tests is it, if we do not have few collapses once in a while to spice up the match? But there were one too many in the past six months and the Perth test to me was the nadir of this current Indian batting line-up. Reality seriously bites and I am just a humble cricket fan.
The vision of taking the top spot was a long process which started when Ganguly was made the captain and had John Wright as India’s first foreign coach. It took nine years to achieve the feat. After taking the top spot, BCCI did their best to accommodate as many tours as possible with top teams to retain the #1 spot in the past two years, removed the DRS for Indian tests at the behest of some senior players and provided all the facilities possible for the players to win matches. Somewhere things have gone wrong and it looked all the more clear since the World Cup triumph. Class is permanent and this team has many class players and the solution isn’t just about dropping seniors and replacing them with juniors, it is beyond it. It is about a process.

Moving forward, a vision must be put in place if Indians have any hope of reclaiming the top spot. A phase-out plan for seniors, injection of youth, horses for courses and maintenance of workloads  of cricketers. This isn’t a new territory, Indian ODI team went through the transition phase brilliantly post the early World cup exit in 2007; and with a well structured foresight Test cricket will also be in good shape. As Indian players have plenty of time till the next Test to introspect,  I am getting reminded of few lines from the song ‘Measure of a Man’ sung by Elton John -

“There comes a time when castles fall
And all that's left is shifting in the sand
You're out of time, you're out of place
Look at your face
That's the measure of a man

You've come full circle, now you're home
Without the gold, without the chrome
And this is where you've always been
You had to lose so you could win
And rise above your troubles while you can
Now you can love, now you can lose
Now you can choose
That's the measure of a man”


The fourth Test at Adelaide starts in nine days and with series 3-0 down, I hope some pride can be restored by winning the Test (oh really?). Ok, at least,  Can we not try avoiding the second white wash in as many away tours?