In a sense, the Sydney Test could well have been the last time India’s majestic middle-order trio went into combat, considering that the match had so much at stake for the higher-ranked visitors to stay in the hunt for the first-ever series victory on Australian soil.
Cricketing epitaphs are always fraught with the danger of coming back to bite you but the way the relentless Australia fast bowlers won almost every skirmish against India’s batsmen, particularly against the ageing greats Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, suggests there is urgent need for fresh blood and rebuilding.
Consecutive defeats in six highly demanding overseas Tests have left the team facing heavy criticism but it only underlines the fact that the greatest team ever put out by India, most certainly as a batting unit, is on a steep decline. Are we the best?BROKEN TEAM
The two stinging defeats inside four days in Australia has also wiped out the aura of skipper MS Dhoni. India clearly looked a broken side at the famed Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday. It has left many wondering why the selectors have not been bold and charted a path ahead, at least after the England rout when there was plenty of scope to ring in new faces.
Former skipper Dilip Vengsarkar, who as chief selector during a critical phase steered the side before and after the 2007 World Cup debacle, feels the job of finding replacements will not be easy. “Sachin, Rahul and Laxman have done well on all kinds of wickets but even they need to adapt quickly in this series,” Vengsarkar said. “But what about the other batsmen? Except for (Ajinkya) Rahane, Rohit (Sharma) and Virat (Kohli), I don’t see a single youngster on the horizon when it comes to the big league.”
This problem will only get accentuated if the trio leaves in quick succession. Not only will the dressing room miss their wealth of wisdom, there will be turmoil if youngsters stepping into their giant shoes don’t settle down quickly.
Vengsarkar squarely blames the poor standard of India’s domestic cricket for the plight of batsmen on lively overseas pitches. “The main reason for our batsmen struggling away from home is (extra) bounce. And what prevents us from adapting to such tracks is the fact that we have been brought up on dead tracks,” he said.
“In our domestic games, you will see scores like 600 for five regularly, which reflects not just on sub-standard pitches but also on the poor quality of bowling in first-class cricket. And most of the domestic matches that produce results are due to doctored pitches. You can’t groom top-notch cricketers like this.”
That is damning indictment of the Indian cricket set-up. Although there is nothing new in Indian batsmen struggling in overseas conditions, the failure of the most experienced and proven batting unit to counter the Aussie bowling plan is a cause for serious concern way beyond the bouncy track that awaits them at Perth.
India’s feel good factor in the last two decades has been batting. While that coincided with the rise of Tendulkar, the team has, even while dominating, often tried to take defeat out of the equation before pushing for victory. That naturally breeds a defensive mindset, which does not help playing overseas.
Former Pakistan skipper Javed Miandad, one of the few batsmen from the sub-continent who excelled around the world, says England and Australia bowlers have ruthlessly exposed the shortcomings of Indian batsmen.
“Batsmen from the sub-continent are prone to instinctively get on to the front foot, since there is hardly any bounce or lateral movement on the wickets,” he said.
“But when they go to places like England, Australia and South Africa, to negate the bounce and movement, they need to take half a step backwards before committing to the stroke.”
The combative former player added: “If they fail to do that, they are bound to be trapped. What I noticed during my playing days was you cannot play with just one technique everywhere. You have to tweak it according to the conditions. That’s what the greats like Sunil Gavaskar and Zaheer Abbas did.”
Left it late
Technique apart, the success of individual players has often helped pepper over collective team issues in the past. However, this time it has left experts and fans wondering alike whether the selectors have left tough decisions until too late.
Miandad has an old-fashioned recipe to at least reverse the slide Down Under. “Who will make them realise this? Rather than seeking advice from players from their own country who have succeeded throughout the world, players these days are asking the expert coaches who work on laptops,” he says. “I can tell you so many people have learnt from me, Gavaskar and Zaheer. But none of the current players come to us. As a result, they keep repeating the same mistakes.”
Until the England debacle talk about the future of the Big Three had been muted because Tendulkar first and then Dravid found sparkling late career form and Laxman had made it an art to score runs under pressure and guide the lower order.
But as it was argued when almost the entire Australia wanted Ponting to walk away, it is not always about the ability of an all-time great like him. It is all about how it would benefit the team.
Indian selectors should have shown the courage to lay out a road map after the thrashing in England when change was anticipated. Having missed the trick then, India could pay heavily.
(With inputs from Amol Karhadkar)