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Absorbing first test sets up an evenly balanced series - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Oct 16, 2008
The Bangalore Test was cricket's version of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, but in reverse. It was the story of the easily overcome force meeting the alarmingly fragile object. The Australian bowling was pedestrian and the Indian middle order was brittle making for an even match where the quality of the cricket was not very high, but the quality of the contest was quite absorbing.

Mitchell Johnson who began so promisingly, bowling for long and with success in India's first innings fell away as the match progressed, and although Brett Lee took his second wicket only on the fifth morning, he looked the best of the crop. Australia missed a spinner who could make the difference in the fourth innings, and India's batsmen were too involved with dealing with their own personal demons to play positively.

Perhaps because this was the first Test of a four-match series, or because the captains are temperamentally thus, safety rather than adventure was the theme. And Zaheer Khan's crack about this being a surprisingly defensive Australian team was both well-timed and well said. This is the kind of remark that spices up a series - it is a classier way of getting your point across and putting pressure on the opposition than some recent examples.

The Indian batsmen did just enough to retain their places. But VVS Laxman apart, and that too in the second innings, there was little for the fans to heave a sigh of relief over. It is unfortunate that Laxman - who alone among the four in the middle is batting with some of his wonted style - is being seen as a part of a declining group. He is batting well, but has to pay for the sins of his colleagues by copping some of the collective criticism hurled at the group.

It is unfortunate for Indian cricket that all its batting and bowling problems should come together like this at the same time. Anil Kumble went wicketless, and doubtless obituarists are sharpening their clichés. His shoulder and finger injuries could not have helped matters. To go wicketless on your home ground can be pretty traumatic, but Kumble has been through worse and fought through. Yet at 38, it will be harder to do so.

India were a bowler short, but the decision to protect the middle order meant that an extra batsman had to be picked. Unless you have an all rounder of class, it is not advisable to go into a Test with four bowlers. Chances are that India will play the same eleven at Mohali in the second Test (unless Kumble's injuries force him out), thus giving everyone another chance to fail. Sentiment may be a good guide for choosing books to read or persons to date, but it is not recommended for picking cricket teams. Here, balance ought to be the key. And so long as India have so many holy cows in their side, that balance will be difficult to achieve. You can't drop the first seven batsman, you can’t drop the two spinners. That leaves the two medium pacers - and ironically, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma have been the two successes of the Test.

Kumble insists that this Australian team can be beaten. And he is right. Ponting insists that this Indian team can be beaten. And he is right too. Perhaps it will be decided not by the Australian bowlers or the Indian middle order, but by two opening batsman - Matthew Hayden and Virender Sehwag.
 
More Views by Suresh Menon
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  For India, First Test syndrome laid to rest
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