By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Three successive defeats have crushed India’s hopes of an encore of 2008 in the Commonwealth Bank (CB) series. On paper, India may still have a chance to make it through to the finals, but going by their performances it seems their ouster is a foregone conclusion. As Sunil Gavaskar opined, “despite mathematical chance, don't think India can make it to the final.”
The seasons 2007-08 and 2011-12 have had contrasting fortunes for India. The disappointment of the early exit at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 was brushed aside by a fantastic comeback that saw them winning a Test series in England, the first ever T20 World Cup, a Test match at Perth and the CB series 2008. Fast forward four years down the line, the memorable World Cup triumph has been followed by the ignominy of 0-4 Test series drubbing inEngland and Australia. The defeats in the ongoing CB series signify the rough weather Indian cricket is experiencing.
If India’s collapse in the first innings at Perth (3rd Test) was a microcosm of their Test struggles, the defeat at Sydney typified their fortunes in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). India have been consistent with their recipe for disaster and the similar trends prevalent in all their defeats present a very disturbing picture. To err is human, but to sustain the mistake is unforgivable. The batting, in particular, has been the biggest letdown. And batting was considered India’s biggest asset till not long ago. All those cracks were visible as Australia packed off one Indian batsman after another to the pavilion.
Let us start by at the top of the batting order. Virender Sehwag’s horror tour continued as his early dismissal set the tone for the Australians. There have been games where he has hit an early boundary or two and led one to believe that he was in for a fight. However, the moment of brilliance was followed by the long walk back to the pavilion. Although a good catch dismissed him in the 10th ODI at Sydney, there have been the upper cut dismissals which just highlight his torrid tour.
Sachin Tendulkar’s stop-start tour hasn’t taken off. As such, he hasn’t struggled and has looked positive on most occasions. His front foot has moved well and some of the shots he has played have had dominance written all over them. It is just that one moment rather that one delivery that has got the better off him and ended a promising innings. There have been times where he has got into a shell. Had he enjoyed some luck in an innings or two, he would have struck big and got back into rhythm. But instead, the inside edges have hit the stumps and Brett Lee's obstruction on Sunday is the latest addition to that list.
Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli are the only men in the top order who have looked comfortable. They had a good partnership which gave India hopes of a win. Once they were dismissed, the run-chase just fell apart. The Delhi duo has anchored one or two run chases during this series and India looked in the game when they were in the middle.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have been the key in the middle-order, but to expect him to pull a rabbit out of his hat every single time is asking too much. There have been accusations levelled against him of being too slow and leaving things too late. As long as he finishes games, that strategy seems fair. But, at Sydney, he just struggled to get going and the excessive dot balls just added pressure. The scoreboard looked stagnant and had he rotated the strike, it may have injected some fight into the innings.
One player who has been a real disappointment is Suresh Raina. He has got off to a few promising starts which have been nipped in the bud by the bowlers. More than his scores, the real worry is his mode of dismissals. Short deliveries and indecisive shots outside off have been his undoing. The team management’s preference for him ahead of Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma is astonishing. Rohit has been more consistent than Raina in the months preceding this tour, and despite Tiwary’s hundred at Chennai against the West Indies, a spot in the eleven eludes him.
Ravichandran Ashwin has had to wield his willow too many times for the liking. If a No 8 batsman has had to shoulder responsibility on more than an occasion, it speaks of the vulnerable batting line-up preceding him in the order. But, Ashwin has looked more assured than some of the frontline batsmen.
Irfan Pathan, too, has been subjected to similar circumstances since his return to the eleven.
Dhoni said that he cannot pin-point a reason for India’s woes, but was spot on when he mentioned that they needed to bat well. The bowling has generally done well, apart from the two games where they were pounded in the slog overs and the rain-curtailed first match. It is the famed batting armoury that has disappointed and not complemented the good work of the bowlers.
At the start of the tri-series, one wouldn’t have expected the Indians too capitulate in the manner they have. People had preconceived notions by comparing the proceedings of this tour to the disastrous England sojourn. However,India’s ODI campaign in England was dogged by injuries. In contrast, they had a full strength side Down Under. There is no real excuse for this abysmal outing.
Dhoni’s words sum up the entire campaign “We haven't been able to perform to our potential.” And that is the bottomline!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")