India lost the first test of an away series like they usually do, but this time, there is not a feeling of abject surrender among the cricketers and fans. The main reason for that is, we managed to take 20 wickets without giving away too many runs and were in the game right through till the last innings. But the old folly of bad batting in abroad conditions cost us once again. I dont know if it is a matter of application or simply in the mind that we lose the first test of away series so regularly. Let us examine some aspects of the test match.
First, let us look at the positives. It was heartening to see the bowlers hit their straps right away on day one and reduce Australia to 214 for 6. But after that, the old failing of letting the lower order take away the game, came back to hurt us. This is quite puzzling to me since in Indian conditions, we are able to get rid of lower order batsmen with relative ease and even in the second, third and other test matches in away conditions, we are able to do it, though with less frequency. So what is it with lower order batsmen in away conditions ? The good thing is, Dhoni made statements that suggested that they are aware of the problem and will look to rectify in the future. As I have always said, recognizing the issue means half the problem is solved. It would be nice if we work on developing a bowler who is especially skilled at taking lower-order wickets. It could be one of the regular bowlers, or someone like Sehwag or Kohli/Rohit/Raina/Sachin who can be used to target lower order batsmen with variations, or firing the ball full on the stumps. This is just an idea, but one worth considering since we have been struck by this problem too many times now to ignore it.
The other positives were the fact that Zaheer came through the entire test without any visible pain, though he did clutch his hamstring once in the second innings. He also looked in top form while bowling, using his brains and variations to get crucial wickets. Yadav showed a lot of promise and showed what some extra pace can do for us in away conditions. Even though he got a lot of batsmen bowled while inside-edging the ball to the stumps, in my mind that is also due to his extra pace that batsmen end up being a bit late on the shot and the ball takes the inside edge instead of the middle. Ishant bowled well with less luck and I was surprised to hear that he once touched 152 kmph in the second innings. Hopefully, his ankle will last the entire series, as will Zaheer. Ashwin bowled well in that he was able to control the runs for the most part, which was his primary job, but I was not happy to see that he bowled a lot of deliveries that were too short. Maybe he just got a little carried away by the bounce on offer, but I would like to see his length on the fuller side much more in the coming tests.
Now lets look at the batting. The most disturbing aspect of the batting was the fact that a lot of batsmen got out to familiar mistakes that they have been making of late, especially on the England tour. Gambhir got out poking at deliveries in both innings, Dravid was bowled off the incoming one in the second innings, Sachin got out flashing at a wide one in the second innings, just like he did in South Africa and England earlier this year. Laxman got out to really slow starts in both innings and that resulted in his dismissal both times, though the modes were different. He needs to work on getting his feet moving and being much more positive at the start of his innings, like Sachin is and even Dravid is sometimes these days. Kohli once again looked a little out of place in the test match setup. That is another puzzling matter to me. A batsman whose game is based on getting set and then attacking the bowling even in ODIs and T20s, should be completely at home in test matches where he has all the time in the world to get set. But he does not give the feeling like he belongs, which is something he needs to rectify urgently otherwise Rohit could replace him as early as the third test. Dhoni is another one who is becoming a liability at the test match level. Even Ashwin is batting better than Dhoni these days in tests. With Kohli and Dhoni not performing, the pressure on the likes of Sehwag, Dravid and Sachin is much greater and unless these two start doing well, I dont see India posting the 350s and 400s like they used to when they were number 1.
For the second test at SCG, I see that the curator is looking to once again have a track with a fair bit of grass on it, which means that there will be help for the bowlers right through if they land the ball in the right areas. Also, the first day will offer more help to the bowlers, like it did at the MCG. So I hope India wins the toss and bowls first, and that this time, they are able to restrict the Aussies to a total under 300. One other point worth considering for the team management is, with Gambhir looking out of sorts, it may not be a bad idea to push Dravid to open with Sehwag and have Gautam at number 3. Dravid has opened in tests before, as recently as in England and is batting well at the moment. If Dravid can bat out time and not keep Sehwag away from the strike for long periods, then we could see Gambhir also come into his own when he bats since the ball will not be that new and the bowlers would have bowled their first spells as well. But I know this will most likely not happen since the team management will think they should not break up a successful opening partnership. Anyway, I just wanted to throw my idea out there which I dont think is that bad and out-of-place.
I was thinking about the idea of playing 2 spinners in the second test since it is the SCG. But the article I read this morning convinced me against that idea. These days the SCG is not like the track of old where it would be a batsmen's paradise for the first 3 days and break up on day 4 and 5 offering lots of turn to the spinners. The Aussie curators these days are preparing tracks like MCG where there is help for bowlers on all 5 days while at the same time being good to bat on as well. There is also no breaking up on the last 2 days, so the track maintains its nature for the entire test match. In my opinion, such tracks are perfect for test matches and I would love to see such tracks in India and the rest of the world as well. Anyway, for the SCG, I would go in with the same bowlers and in fact, retain the entire eleven unless there are injury concerns.
Lets hear it from you guys. My next post will be after the Sydney test match, so stay tuned.