By H Natarajan
Lost by 196 runs
Lost by 319 runs
Lost by an innings and 242 runs
Lost by an innings and 8 runs
Lost by 122 runs
Lost by an innings and 68 runs
That’s three innings defeat and three more by margins of 300+, 200+ and almost 200. Those are massive defeats in any language. And worse, it’s come in a row.
If Team India was a corporate entity, Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the CEO would have lost his job. Accountability is the key word in the ruthless corporate world where positive numbers are critical for survival and where the top brass’s longevity is determined from quarter to quarter. Two successive quarters producing results like the one mentioned above and the CEO would have been history.
Though the buck stops with him, it would however be entirely wrong to place all the blame on Dhoni’s doorsteps. Six of the top seven in the Indian line-up have failed in at least three of the four innings they have batted in the two Tests so far in Australia. That clearly underlines India’s woes in the ongoing series. In the four innings they have played so far, Sehwag has scores of 7, 30, 4, Gambhir has 3, 13 and 0, Dravid 10, 5 and 29, Laxman 2, 1 and 2 and Dhoni 6, 23 and 2. Kohli, the sixth batsman in question, has failed in all four innings - 11, 0, 23 and 9. Only God can save a team of such collective failures.
Barring Kohli, the other five batsmen have been escapists, crossing the half century mark once to ensure that they are not total washouts. Sachin Tendulkar is the solitary exception in the Indian line-up averaging 56.50. Incredibly, India No 8 Ravichandran Ashwin is the next best, averaging 35.75 in the series so far, looking assured every time he has walked out to bat.
The ongoing series averages for the rest of the top seven in the batting order reads:
MS Dhoni 29.33
Rahul Dravid 28.00
Virender Sehwag 27.00
Gautam Gambhir 24.75
VVS Laxman 17.75
Virat Kohli 10.75
The shocking numbers of Gambhir and Sehwag
Only one Indian batsman – Dravid - has reached three figures in the last nine overseas Tests. And if one factors the three-Test series in South Africa, we have one more – Sachin Tendulkar. That effectively smashes the myth about India being the strongest batting line-up in the world. There have been calls for exclusions of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Yet, it’s these three who are sitting on top of the averages and runs scored in the last few overseas tours. What will be India’s plight without the “Big Three”?
India’s woes start with the openers. The plummeting stocks of Gambhir and Sehwag means India has come under early pressure. Gambhir has now gone without a Test century for 33 innings. His last Test hundred was two years back in Bangladesh. Sehwag, Gambhir’s opening partner, hasn't scored a hundred outside the subcontinent since January 2008 – that’s almost four long years!
One of the reasons why India has done well in the past is because of the solidity provided by Sehwag and Gambhir at the top. But that old firm is now a crumbling edifice. And anybody with a passing sense of cricketing knowledge will agree that a good start is imperative for any team.
Damning numbers of India’s openers since the Newlands Test in South Africa
India has been in massive trouble with the opening slot since the third Test against South Africa. Below are the fall of the first wicket in overseas Tests since the final Test at Newlands in South Africa:
19 & 27- Gautam Gambhir & Virender Sehwag, 3rd Test vs South Africa, Newlands
15 & 0 – Murali Vijay & Abhinav Mukund, 1st Test vs West Indies, Jamaica
1 & 26 - Murali Vijay & Abhinav Mukund, 2nd Test vs West Indies, Barbados
13 & 0 – Murali Vijay & Abhinav Mukund, 3rd Test vs West Indies, Roseau
63 & -- Gautam Gambhir & Abhinav Mukund 1st Test vs England, Lord’s
--- & 19 – Abhinav Mukund & Rahul Dravid, 1st Test vs England, Lord’s
0 & 6 – Abhinav Mukund & Rahul Dravid, 2nd Test vs England, Nottingham
8 & 3 – Gautam Gambhir & Virender Sehwag, 3rd Test vs England, Birmingham
8 & 49 - Virender Sehwag & Rahul Dravid, 4th Test vs England, The Oval
22 & 17 – Gautam Gambhir & Virender Sehwag, 1st Test vs Australia, Melbourne
0 & 18 - Gautam Gambhir & Virender Sehwag, 2nd Test vs Australia, Sydney
Those are damning numbers – four ducks, five other scores of below ten, a second highest partnership of 49 and a highest of 63. Those numbers clearly explains the sustained mess India has found itself in the last four overseas series. In the West Indies, it was the new pair of Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay while in England Dravid was pressed in as emergency opener. But the return of both Gambhir and Sehwag at full fitness at the top of the order has done nothing to stem the rot.
While there is much talk of the need to replace the Big Three – two of whom have been champion performers in the last couple of series – most seem to have missed the one big problem – the steep decline of India’s formidable opening partners – Messrs Sehwag & Gambhir.
Unless the two come good at Perth, India will have to look for a fresh set of openers – not necessarily drop them, but rejig the batting order. Indian cricket has sustained the pain for a long time and it cannot endure any longer.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)