Cricket: India bounced out!

Published: January 7, 2015 - 13:54 Updated: June 16, 2015 - 15:23

Loss to Australia hastens Captain Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket

Sandeep Kumar Delhi 

After struggling to draw the third Test in Melbourne, Team India will again be returning emptyhanded from Australia — still on a quest for the first series win Down Under after Independence. 

Despite some gutsy individual efforts, the team—as on past tours— remained consistently inconsistent. Worse, this loss hastened the departure of India’s most successful Indian Test captain, MS Dhoni, from Test cricket. Dhoni announced his retirement after the Melbourne Test.    

The bright spots in the past for India have been when it drew series in 1980-81 and 2003-04. It was the Bishan Singh Bedi-led team that acquitted itself better than other teams that made the long journey to Australia. It fought tooth and nail with a strong Bob Simpson-led Australian team on the 1977-78 tour, losing by a close 2-3 margin. Right through the series, the Indians were on top for most of the time, but still lost. The Aussies were bowled out a few times for small totals. It was an exciting series.

The 2014 tour had a tragic beginning. Australia’s rising star, Phil Hughes, was hit behind his ear by a rising ball, resulting in his death. The incident engulfed the entire cricket world in sorrow. The Australians were so emotionally drenched that they refused to play the first five-day Test.

The Indians had other reasons to be worried, apart from their indifferent track record in Australia. The team was not in the best form and perhaps for the first time it did not have a single player on the plane to The Antipodes featuring in the ICC’s top 10 Test batsmen or bowlers’ list.

This apart, Dhoni, the regular skipper and wicketkeeper, was ruled out of the series opener due to a thumb injury. The warm-up match before the series did not betray the gaps in the team that was led by the wet-behind-the-ears but over-aggressive Virat Kohli. The Test matches that followed showed how weak India’s much vaunted batting and bowling were.

In the first, rain-hit, Test at Adelaide, and with Kohli at the helm, things perked up for the visitors for a while. The bowling line-up had pace, but was not incisive. Fired by emotions built up by Hughes’ death, the Aussie batsmen scored easy runs. It was painful to watch the Indian fielders on an unending leather hunt.

After Australia’s dual declarations left India with the task of scoring 364 from a minimum of 98 overs, not even the craziest Indian fan would have placed their bets on an Indian victory. The target of 364 on the final day at Adelaide, and that too against a full- strength Australian attack, seemed out of reach. Lately, the Indians have played safe and have been lazy in chasing totals.

Remember the Dominican Test against the West Indies? Dhoni had bizarrely accepted Darren Sammy’s proposal to draw the match, when the Indian team needed just 87 runs in 90 balls to win the match and that too with seven wickets in hand. It is one of those strange mysteries that may go unanswered till Dhoni writes a book— which may not be too far off!

Coming back to the Adelaide Test, riding on the heroics of in-form Kohli who made 141 runs and Murli Vijay’s gutsy knock of 99, the young Indian team gave its all to almost pull off a historic victory, but choked before it could reach the finish line. India lost eight wickets for 73 runs in the pulsating last session to hand the hosts a 48-run victory.

Rejuvenated by the return of skipper Dhoni and off spinner Ravi Ashwin, the Indians looked more confident for the second Test at Brisbane. Batting first on the fast and bouncy Gabba wicket is never easy. Many Test cricketers who have played there have faced some tough speed bowling from Australians over the years. Some of them remain bruised by the memory of those encounters.  India still managed to achieve a respectiable total of 408. After bowling out six top-order Australian batsmen for a measly 246, the Indians’ traditional weakness against tailenders reared again. The last four wickets plundered more than 250 runs and turned the match in favour of the kangaroos.

Why do Indian bowlers always struggle against the tailenders? Dhoni just cannot devise a move to bowl out the sticky tailenders. Recall Stuart Broad’s heroics on the 2011 England tour, or the Test in Cape Town, the 2013 Durban Test, 2014 Manchester Test, 2014 Oval Test or the just-concluded Brisbane Test—our bowlers don’t show imagination in finishing off the rival innings quickly. This is one of the fundamental reasons why Indian teams have struggled to win a
series abroad.  

If it was Mitchell Johnson’s 88 in Brisbane, the third Test at Melbourne was a happy hunting ground for Ryan Harris, who raided 74 in no time to take the Aussie total above the 500-run mark. Indian bowlers, despite their growing pace, are below even the Bangladeshi seamers in the second new ball economy charts. 

Since 2010, on seven occasions, Indians have allowed their opposition to score 400-plus in an innings after having them five down for 250 or less. Rubbing more salt on the wound, Indians have conceded 84 runs on an average against the opposition’s No. 8, 9, 10 and 11 outside Asia since 2011, which is the most by any team.

Even bowlers with extreme pace, like Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav, have struggled to trouble the lower- order batsmen in recent matches, which dents revival hopes for coming tours. Clearly, bowlers commit the folly of bowling in the same areas with the same length and that does not fetch results. It’s a brainless, clueless approach to a simple question: how to get the tailenders out?

With Dhoni announcing his retirement immediately after the MCG Test, his overseas record will now always remain a dark patch on his golden captainship tenure. The presence of Dhoni was the difference between the MCG draw and the Adelaide loss. 

His cool head will be missed in Tests. What is to be seen is whether his departure leads to the exit of the Indian team’s reticent coach Duncan Fletcher, too. Expect wholesale changes as the new order takes over.

Only time will tell whether the young Indian team will find a way to win Test matches abroad. An opportunity to show that will not come any time soon, as the team will get down to defending its status as the World Champion of the shorter version of the game.

This story is from print issue of HardNews