India’s defeat in the first Test against Australia shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, especially considering India’s poor record in Australia and at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in particular. Then there is the historical truth that India has been poor starters on overseas tours. But the performance is the Sydney Test was disappointing to say the least.
Despite their poor track record away from home, India were seen as favorites heading into this series, primarily because Australia was a team that going through a transition phase, and its key players like Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were fighting for survival in the team. Their opening combination was a worry and the absence of Shane Watson was expected to hurt them in the batting as well as the bowling department. India, on the other hand, had a dreadful series against England a few months ago, but it appeared as though most of the flaws had been rectified after a successful home series against the West Indies. A new-look bowling unit looked fierce and in good shape, and the batsmen showed some positive signs. Even in the warm-up games, before the start of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the Indian batsmen looked like they were here to make hay, although the bowlers appeared a little shaky.
But things took a completely different turn for India in the first Test as its batting capsized yet again in an overseas tour. Gautam Gambhir’s form was a worry coming into this series and his scores of three and 13 in the two innings respectively did no good to India’s cause. Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar looked good in the first innings but failed to capitalise in the second, although it must be noted that Tendulkar looked in good knick before getting out in the second innings too. VVS Laxman, Australia’s old nemesis, didn’t look like the messiah this time around. At no point of time did he even look a little comfortable during his short stint at the crease. Virat Kohli’s unimpressive run in the Tests continued and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni did no good to his below-par record in overseas Tests.
Surprisingly, it was Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin who appeared to be comfortable with the bat. Ishant offered resistance and Ashwin went about playing his natural game, something the top-order should have done. The pitch never looked like it had demons in it, as was proved by the Australian middle-order and also Ishant in the first innings. They prolonged their stay at the crease by simply getting in line with the ball. Although few batsmen like Dravid and Tendulkar were out to almost unplayable deliveries in the first innings, a few like Gambhir and Kohli just threw their wickets away by meddling at balls that deserved to be left alone. Gambhir and Kohli have now got themselves in a pressure situation and will be conscious of the fact that talented players are waiting in the sidelines to grab their opportunities.
Gambhir looked safer at least in the second Test. He has a healthy opening track record with Sehwag and that should guarantee him another opportunity. Moreover, the talented Ajinkya Rahane has not done anything to impress in the build up to this tour, in sharp contrast to his displays in England. But there is no mistaking that he is one for the future. Kohli’s and VVS’s performance in the Sydney Test left a lot to be desired, though VVS did notch up a fifty. Maybe it is time to drop one of them, and going by track record, Laxman might get the longer rope.
The inclusion of Rohit Sharma ahead of Kohli for the Perth Test may prove to be a gamble worth taking. Kohli is a phenomenal limited-overs player who hasn’t yet been successful in making that seamless transition into Tests. Rohit, on the other hand, has impressed one and all with some delightful performances in domestic and first-class cricket of late. He was also adjudged the Man of the Series for his noteworthy performances in the One-Day International (ODI) series against the West Indies. Making him warm the bench is of no avail when he is in such a fine run of form. Also, Sharma has shown that he is capable of handling the short-deliveries better than Kohli. Kohli and Sharma will together play an important part for India in the future, but as far as this series is concerned, Rohit’s inclusion will certainly help India strengthen its middle-order.
Despite the fact that India played some substandard cricket in the first two Tests, nothing must be taken away from the Australian players. They fought bravely on the field and never gave up, albeit a few issues that could have very well been a major obstacle for them in this series. It is characteristic of the Aussies to believe in themselves and give any opposition a run for their money. Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson showed that a little grit along with discipline can go a long way in creating a positive outcome. Ponting and Hussey showed that they are made up of champion material and silenced their critics, yet again, at least for the time being.
The Indians shouldn’t be too disappointed with losses and should learn quickly. Bowling was their weakness before the start of this tour, but Umesh Yadav, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma have done reasonably well and performed nicely in tandem. It’s the batting department that should shoulder more responsibility and start posting competitive totals. Dhoni should also rethink his tactics while trying to get the opposition’s lower-order batsmen out quickly, as it has caused considerable damage in the recent past. Unless the batsmen and bowlers don’t fire together, India’s streak of six consecutive losses overseas will only worsen.