It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Flintoff, one of England’s finest all-rounders, reminded his good friend from West Indies Dwayne Bravo, rather sharply, that the game of cricket had a funny way of ‘biting you up the arse.’ Few in sports will dispute that. During recent times, the Indian cricketers were in a position to vividly comprehend Flintoff’s statement. They held the top spot in Tests, were champions of the world, but doubts were cast on their prowess once the humiliating tours of England and Australia concluded.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s tactics, despite being considered as first-rate on the big stage prior to July 2011, were questioned. In fact, it prompted me to write an article highlighting the rise and fall of Michael Clarke and Dhoni respectively. Fast-forward one year later and we’re looking at a swap of fortunes. The Australians have been cornered and outplayed at Chennai, Hyderabad and Mohali, and this against an Indian side without the services of its regular openers, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan. Unless there is a paradigm shift, one can expect the same at Delhi too.
During recent times, whitewashes have not been few and far between, but it’s hard to digest the fact that, thanks primarily to the aura created by their predecessors, an Australian unit finds itself at the receiving end this time. One can argue that the exit of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey has left a massive void, but that excuse cannot be used as a veil to hide behind, or to conceal the squad’s glaring shortcomings. Barring Clarke, most batsmen have been found wanting against spin. The bowling department too has seldom grabbed the limelight, and the less we speak of their off-field conundrums, the better. In short, the crevices in their line-up have been unsubtly exposed.
What’s surprising is that the Australian think tank, a committee that was once commended for exemplary decision-making, has of late been tentative. This is evident firstly in their process of selection. Shane Watson — the all-rounder who has been making news lately owing to absurd reasons — was included despite his lack of contribution as a bowler, and his batting position, both being under cloud. A decade ago, the chances of his selection with such uncertainties hovering about would have been minimal, but such is the state Australian cricket currently finds itself in. Moreover, after being ousted from the Mohali Test owing to non-compliance with the team-management’s orders, Watson has since, and may I add, strangely, become a strong contender to lead Australia at Delhi in the absence of Clarke.
On the other hand, India’s approach, albeit uncharacteristic, has been refreshing. The selectors have had no qualms in dropping players of the calibre of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, something the previous committee, led by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, had often been skeptical of doing with underperforming stars. The newbies, too, deserve praise, for they proved their salt in the first opportunity that they were bestowed with, and have raised hopes for the future of India’s chances in the Test arena. Dhoni’s reversal has been spectacular as well. Two hundred and ninety runs from four innings, at an average of 96.66, is proof of his skills in this format and, like Clarke did in the summer of 2012, he has stepped up to the plate when needed.
Clarke, though, has been the solitary Australian batsman to impress on this tour, despite the internal, on-field and physical problems that have dogged him. If Steve Smith’s one good knock [92 at Mohali] from two outings is kept out of the equation, Clarke is the only Australian player to average over 40. He has no doubt proved his credentials as a first-rate batsman, even in arduous conditions, but the fact remains that he has failed to be the glue that holds his side together. A little help and understanding from his mates, both at the wicket and off the field, could do a world of good to Australia’s chances going ahead, but whether the recuperation can begin quickly remains to be seen. They could take a cue from the Indian team who, in spite of being a disoriented bunch until recently, have done enough to redeem themselves, at least for the moment. Bigger tests lie ahead, no doubt, but they’re on the right track and that is what eventually counts.
As a captain, Clarke has done all he could on the field with his inexperienced entourage. The fact that this coincided with Dhoni’s attacking modus operandi, a far cry from his usual methods in Test cricket, has made matters worse for Clarke’s men. “He (Dhoni) has changed positively as a captain,” Sunil Gavaskar rightly noted after the Hyderabad Test, and it’s perhaps that positivity that has brought about a change in fortunes for India. How, or whether, Australia can quickly bounce back from the string of defeats remains to be seen, but for now, they’re proof that Flintoff’s statement does hold water.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/
First Published: March 22, 2013, 9:57 am