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India has a long, hard road to traverse.
by Partab Ramchand
Jan 01, 2008
It’s early days but indications are that the Indians face the routs that their predecessors in 1991-92 and 1999-2000 had to endure. Of course one has to go back 40 years when the tourists lost all four Test matches and unless the Indians lift their game several notches we could even see that being repeated. Even those incurable cynics who do not share the unreasonable optimism that Indian cricket fans generate would not have bargained for a defeat by as wide a margin as 337 runs the third heaviest in terms of runs.

Make no mistake. This is a supremely efficient Australian team. With their intensity of preparation, tremendous mental strength and manifold skills they have left the rest of the cricketing world far behind. When India widely touted to be one of the main challengers crash to such a overwhelming defeat then it is clear that the Aussies have taken the game to another pane altogether.

In the late 70s one of the Bjorn Borg’s contemporaries in the ultimate tribute to the Swedish superstar’s genius said ``we play tennis, he plays something else.’’ Much the same can be said about the current Australian team that has already won 15 successive Tests and is looking to erase the previous record – not unexpectedly standing in their own name – of 16 Test wins on the trot in the period 1999-2001. Interestingly enough on that occasion it was India who halted their victory march by a famous triumph at Kolkata but the way things stand there is as much chance of India halting their victory march this time as there is of snow falling in Chennai.

When the team landed in Australia the question was whether they had the bowlers to take 20 wickets in a Test match. There was never any doubt raised as to the potential of the batsmen. After all wasn’t the Indian batting arguably the mightiest in the world? And yet frequently in the recent past it is the unheralded bowling that has come good while the exalted batting has faltered. It was the same case at Melbourne where the famed quartet was reduced to one half century between them in the match.

The genesis of the problem was in the reshuffle. To accommodate Yuvraj Singh Rahul Dravid was pushed to open the innings while VVS Laxman went in at No 3. Dravid made Trevor Bailey look like Gilbert Jessop. He is of course not known for adventurous strokeplay but 180 balls to inch painfully to a tally of 21 in the two innings is quite incomprehensible. He just got into this defensive mindset and refused to budge. There were times when deliveries could have at least been pushed away into the gaps for singles and twos but Dravid just could not see them so intent was he on defence, on keeping his wicket intact. It could not have done his confidence, already pretty low following a run of low scores, any good. Worse, this kind of batting inspires little confidence in his teammates.

It is clear that at Sydney Dravid will have to go down the order – to No 3 or even No 6 keeping in mind the horrendous run he has been enduring for over a year. Yuvraj can be discarded after his double failure and Virender Sehwag should accompany Wasim Jaffer to the crease at the top of the order. He is one batsman who will make a genuine attempt to dictate terms to the Aussie bowlers. The over defensive approach of the batsmen at Melbourne was the chief reason for the debacle. A more positive attitude is what is required and Sehwag is just the man to provide it. After all didn’t Ian Chappell say that the Aussies still fear Sehwag following his swashbuckling exploits four years ago?

The bowling by comparison came off better and it was good to see the team management opt for two spinners. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will have to bowl in tandem if India are to have any chance of leveling the series and Sydney would represent their best chance. Perhaps the one change for the second Test could be Irfan Pathan taking the place of RP Singh for he could also add some substance to the batting. Yes, suddenly the batting, seemingly the tourists’ strong point, is the problem and the line up could do with any help it can get.

The Aussies for their part have no worries at all. Yes, they might worry whether they will make it 16 wins in a row at Sydney equaling their own previous record. Their batting, bowling and fielding is on a high and Ponting, like Clive Lloyd, knows how easy it is to captain a powerful, all conquering side. But the one aspect that sets apart this Australian team is that they never let go. They keep coming at the opponents, applying the pressure relentlessly and squeezing the fight out of them.

On the eve of the current tour much was made of the Indians’ inspiring show the last time out four years ago when they drew the four Test series 1-1. While not wanting to take away any credit from the batsmen who performed commendably it must not be forgotten that both Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne did not play in even one match. The batsman ran up a series of high scores but it was generally a mediocre bowling line up that they were up against the likes of Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken and Stuart MacGill symbolizing this. This time the pace quartet of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clarke and Shaun Tait and for some variety the spin of Hogg promises to be a much more effective force. Already one cannot see the Indian batsmen even come close to the kind of heady scores – two double centuries, a near double century, two triple hundred partnerships, a record total of 705 for seven declared – they came up with last time. And commendably as the Indian bowlers did their job they lack the firepower to take wickets cheaply or to take 20 wickets in a match despite the skipper’s brave assertion. Viewed from any angle it looks like the Indians have a long, hard road to traverse in the coming weeks. They will have to be some sort of metamorphosis in their approach and technical and tactical skills if they are to come back in the series.

One last thought. If West Indies ranked No 8 can upset South Africa ranked No 2 can we expect India ranked No 4 to put it over the top ranked Aussies? Or is that asking for too much?

More Views by Partab Ramchand
  India vs Australia - Batting and bowling worries for the hosts
  Future of Indian cricket is in good hands
  Future bright for Irfan Pathan
  Basil D'Oliveira was a mighty fine utility player
  Ashwin is a stayer, not a sprinter!
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