They started 2011 as the No 1 ranked Test team; as they begin 2012, India’s reputation lies in tatters. Not since 1999, when they were whitewashed 3-0 in Australia, has Indian cricket faced such turbulence. The tag of ‘poor travellers’ that took years of toil to wipe out has come to stay --- an outcome of losing all four matches in England and the opening Test in Australia.
The famed batting line-up is under pressure to prove that they are more than just flat-track bullies. With India mainly playing at home for the next two seasons, the last three Tests in Australia could be the last chance for Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to leave a final impression in overseas games.
Actually, it’s not so much about these legends. Tendulkar & Co have earned fame by improving the team’s overseas record in the last decade. For them, it’s a case of signing off on a high.
The players under the scanner are those who have built their reputation on Indian wickets and have basked in the shade of the Big Three. With the veterans no longer able to carry the team on their shoulders, like in their yore, it has exposed the brittleness.
The remaining three Tests Down Under could make or break some careers in this line-up. The stake is the biggest for MS Dhoni as captaining outside the sub-continent is proving to be a different ball game. It is tougher in the sense that there is no margin for error. One poor session, one bad move, and the game drifts out of control as it did in Melbourne.
He has had a glorious run as captain but another debacle like England will put his job on the line.
There is an argument that Dhoni’s tactics let India down at the MCG. It was anybody’s game till the third evening; then the skipper let it drift with unimaginative field settings. He faces an enormous challenge to help India regroup.
His reputation as a genuine No 7 in Tests is also under the scanner and scores of six and 23 hardly enhance his reputation. His overall average is near 38, in Australia it falls to a poor 17.
When Gautam Gambhir played the match-winning innings at the World Cup final, he promised a lot. The dip in form has affected the team’s fortunes in overseas games, where seeing off the new ball is the key to success. He averaged 17 from the three Tests in England, and with two half-centuries in his last 13 Test innings and scores of three and 13 in Melbourne, he is fighting for his place now.
Virat Kohli has also jeopardised his place after failing in both innings at the MCG. He also has to sort out his weakness against the moving ball, and another failure in Sydney would mean the No 6 position will be up for grabs. An in-form Rohit Sharma is waiting in the wings.
It’s not just the players. Duncan Fletcher, too, has a forgettable record as coach in Australia. As England coach, he lost nine of the 10 games. With India, he has started with a loss. The critics have started to speak with former India captain Sourav Ganguly declaring that the coach needs to quickly turn things around for the team.