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India’s core issues

cricket Updated: Jan 02, 2008 02:05 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali
Hindustan Times
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Batting: Dazed & confused
The issue:
The opening remains a perennial problem and with Dravid looking likely to continue in an unfamiliar slot, the middle too remains vulnerable. Dravid looked completely out of sorts at the top, far too defensive, suffocated in the role. Jaffer has looked tentative.

Tendulkar has opened up early on, showing positive, aggressive intent but, as Ponting said, "Lee has bowled brilliantly to him" and he's been set up beautifully. Ganguly has looked solid and Laxman comfortable while he was there but both have fallen after starts: Ganguly twice done in while misreading Hogg and Laxman by pace.

As for Yuvraj and Dhoni, well, as they've spent a total of exactly 60 minutes at the crease over two innings between themselves, there's not much to say. Then, another major problem has been the completely defensive mindset for the most.

The players neither going for their shots (the Australian "choking" strategy and the slow wicket didn't help) nor running between the wickets well meant that India's run rate remained abysmally low and the bowlers grew in confidence.

What next: Ideally, of course, Dravid should bat at No. 3 but that's unlikely to happen, in this Test at least. In which case, India's most accomplished Test batsman should show what he's capable of.

If he has to go 40-odd balls without scoring, he should make it count later by making it one of his big innings. Easier said than done though, rotating the strike would probably help all around. In every batsman's case, it would periodically take the pressure off him and give him some breathing space, especially if a particular bowler was trying to choke him or getting to him.

What would also help is the fact that the SCG is supposed to have a faster outfield than Melbourne — the Indians like to play their shots generally and if they see the boundaries coming, it would help them mentally.

Kumble said his batters were all too uptight at The G. He said he had asked them to "switch off" and unwind. Dravid has reportedly decided to think positive and look at the New Year as a period that will bring in happier times. It might, it's really in his hands. Ditto for the others.

Bowling: Who can deliver?
The issue:
Till this morning, the bowling, India's only high point of the MCG Test, was not a worry, with the bowlers doing better than expected. Now though, with Zaheer in doubt, doubts have resurfaced with a vengeance.

Zaheer's experience gives him an edge over the other Indian pacemen when facing Australia's batsmen, who resort to intimidation and mind games while they're at the crease. Take Hayden's almost disdainful strut towards the bowlers every now and then between deliveries for instance, or the way Symonds badgers them with his sheer presence when he's on. It can stress out a young paceman or put him off his rhythm.

RP Singh seemed to be edgy early in the first innings after being smacked around a bit by the Hayden-Jaques combine. He didn't make them play enough and was frustrated enough to kick at the ground periodically, swear at himself possibly and show his angst, something he could avoid.

Harbhajan did well to come back in the second innings somewhat but though Kumble said he was "unlucky" not to get wickets first time around, it never really looked like he had found his rhythm then. The Aussies will fancy their chances against him, even in Sydney.

What next: If Ishant or Irfan play, they would have to try and focus on the game and not the fact that one is a rookie with great expectations on him and the other a young star who everyone believes is already past his best years.

RP might have to take on the mantle of strike bowler and he should probably take inspiration from the way he handled the responsibility in a different format of the game, during the T20 World Cup.

Finally, the players will have to find a way to keep up the intensity even when things are not going well. They didn't do that while bowling in the second innings, just waiting for Australia to declare.

Kumble would have to pace himself, as a lot of the bowling responsibility will as usual fall on him.

He cannot afford to lose focus or not stay positive if he wants his team to win. It will be tough on the Indian skipper.

Fielding: Stop that!
The issue:
Everything! India's fielding is possibly the worst in the world, though Pakistan gave them a run for their money in the series gone by. While the catching is okay, the ground fielding is terrible, probably because there is a complete lack of athleticism in the fielders, which, combined with a seeming laziness about this most thankless of cricketing jobs, translates into a mess.

Players allow balls to go between their legs, they look at each other when the ball bisects two of them to see who will give chase; they are obviously slow in terms of reaction time, often throwing themselves dramatically at a ball even as it is clearly going past.

On big grounds like the MCG, they don't do relay throws backing each other up like the Aussies and relatively weak arms and no throwing power gives the batsmen a major advantage.

What next: Hope! Well, while Kumble agreed today that though it was too late to make dramatic changes, he did say that the matter was being discussed at length in the team meetings, he had suggested that the problem was more in the mind than any physical liability. He said it had been suggested that players clear their heads and make that extra effort. It would help if they remembered to do things like relay throws, back each other up at the wicket, run like mad for everything and feel desperately enough that every run given would count heavily against them.