On the eve of the Australia tour, Umesh Yadav was gung ho leading the bowling attack. After spending more than three months in this country last season, he knew what to expect. The confidence stemmed from performances at the 2015 World Cup and he was sure he had grasped the nuances of fast bowling in Australia.
But it was the same old story in the series — getting carried away to be thrashed after ignoring the most important factor — discipline. The excuse this time was that India didn’t have time to acclimatise. However, the batsmen showed if you remembered the lessons from the previous tour and executed the plans, you didn’t need that extra time.
As India lick their wounds after another thrashing Down Under, it is clear the team think-tank failed to address two aspects that proved decisive. One was the length to bowl to the Australia batsmen, who had switched from a front foot to back foot game, says former Australia fast bowler Len Pascoe.
“To make it awkward for the batsman trying to clear his leg and free his arm, you have to bowl fuller, aim at the base of middle and off (stump). You can’t bowl short here because there is a trampoline kind of bounce and the batsman gets too much time to see the ball.
“Lot of these Australia batsmen are playing back and across and are very strong against anything on the shorter side. Earlier, the trend was to play all the shots off the front foot, even pulling and cutting. Steve Smith, Joe Burns (didn’t play in this series) all play a lot going back and across,” observed Pascoe, who holds the distinction of bowling the first ball in a Day-Night ODI.
India also didn’t seem to realise that the dynamics had changed, and that teams were no longer afraid of chasing a big total.
Indian fans still agonise over what might have been if skipper Sourav Ganguly had not chosen to field first against Australia in the 2003 World Cup final. The rule then was to bat first. But no total is safe anymore due to the T20 effect.
By the time India worked that out, they were 0-3 down. Australia skipper Steve Smith opted to set a target in the fourth ODI, but it was mainly to offer his team a new challenge.
The conditions were tough for bowlers, but Yadav and Co made things difficult for themselves due to the lengths and lines they needed to bowl. Australia has always been a challenge --- India have a poor record here --- but this time India had runs on the board. The pace tribe’s lack of intensity against the world’s top-ranked one-day side was disappointing. Short balls and over-pitched deliveries were gifted, and the Australia batsmen didn’t feel the pressure.
The seniors were exposed when skipper MS Dhoni fielded the limited and inexperienced squad member, Rishi Dhawan. An ungainly seamer from Himachal Pradesh on his first tour, Dhawan showed better tactical awareness and stuck to basics. That someone clocking 120-130 kph returned more respectable figures in his first two matches showed what the others lacked.
Team director Ravi Shastri’s argument that it was a learning curve sounded hollow. Ishant Sharma has toured here since 2007-08, and Yadav and Bhuvneshwar too have been here many times.
After the third straight loss batting first, the debacle was attributed to the wickets. It was argued that India could do better with a target in front of them. But they failed that test too in Canberra, the batting collapse raising the question whether it was a mental block against Australia.
The top order, the only department which functioned at a high level throughout, was no longer sure what it needed to do to cross the line. Until Sydney, whatever they did, Australia did better. It’s rare for India to boast of six centuries in five games. Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan as well as Manish Pandey provided that. However, little else clicked. At the start, there was talk of India’s chances to become the No 1 ranked team in ODIs as well; in the end, they just about held on to the No 2 spot.
It’s shocking that in this era of specialised support staff, fielding let India down. The Australia bowlers have also struggled but their fielders have backed them up.
Ishant Sharma was so lethargic that every time he stopped the ball, it drew sarcastic cheers from the crowds. Gurkeerat Singh Mann will remember his debut at the MCG for the sitter he dropped off Aaron Finch. At the MCG, Shikhar Dhawan fumbled a couple of times and Rohit looked silly diving over the ball at cover, conceding four.
India came alive towards the fag end of the MCG game, but it was too late to salvage the series. It was then argued that everyone had become better at handling pressure and chasing totals. However, when India tried, they ended up looking silly after the spectacular collapse at Canberra.
While Shastri attributed the inability to accelerate in the slog overs to the rival bowlers’ skill, Australia showed how it is done at the Manuka Oval, getting 111 in the last 60 balls.