Mood in the Indian camp not far removed from January 2008

Harbhajan Singh celebrates after India’s Test win over Australia at Perth in 2008 © Getty Images

By Madan Mohan

 

As the nation awaits defeat for the Indian cricket team with almost a sense of inevitability, people have begun to recall the mood in the Indian camp the last time they took on Australia at Perth, in January 2008. Then, as now, India had lost both the first two Tests, hosted at the same venues as well. Then too, India were widely expected to be against insurmountable odds at Perth 2008.

 

But, according to the reports I have been reading anyway, India then travelled to Perth with a sense of injustice and anger over the events of Sydney 2008. And, like cornered tigers, they bounced back and pulled off a miracle. Whereas in 2012, their mood is supposedly despondent and negative with no hope of a fightback.

 

The observations regarding the 2012 team may well be true. I also feel the team is down and out and has not shown much spine. It seems improbable that they could even mount a respectable defence at Perth, let alone win. But never say never; cricket is a game of glorious (as well as inglorious) uncertainties.

 

I remember the backdrop of Perth 2008 well and must contest the observations I have been reading about the team’s mood then. Maybe, the anger of the team members was more visible from close quarters and those who enjoyed a good rapport with them could sense their self belief. However, I can safely say there was not a hint of it on the outside in the run up to the match. Indeed, the mood was very similar to that of 2012.

 

The team could, at the most, hope to square the series and would not win back the Border- Gavaskar Trophy. Australian opening batsman Chris Rogers half warned and half bragged that India would get rolled over at Perth. Then, as now, there was talk of playing four pace bowlers at Perth, a strategy that Australia did in fact adopt for the match. Harbhajan Singh had been suspended and would have to comply while it was appealed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). There was little to play for but pride.

 

Nor did the practice match at Canberra held before the Test indicate much fire in the belly. The Indians looked listless and forlorn as they went through the motions. With Australia undefeated at Perth ever since the West Indies bowling attack lost its sting, things couldn’t have looked bleaker for India. It is interesting how the outcome of a match can colour perceptions of events before it but the mood appeared anything but upbeat in January 2008.

 

We know what actually ensued on match day. To this day, sections of Australian watchers insist that that Perth wicket was a batting strip and allowed India to get away. It has never been satisfactorily explained to me why then did Australia get bowled out for 212 on Day Two, losing most of their wickets to the Indian seamers.

 

Actually, Australia simply did not hit what is called the WACA length anywhere near enough. Ace speedster Brett Lee was the only one who did and whenever he was on the money, he troubled the batsmen and brought Australia back into the match on Day Three. Mitchell Johnson did as Mitchell Johnson does and Stuart Clark was also strangely off colour. Brought in to bowl to the well set pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, Shaun Tait seemingly crumbled under the weight of expectations and belied the hype. On the subject of bounce or lack thereof, a misdirected Lee bouncer flew past the wicketkeeper and to the boundary rope. So the track had zip and purchase for those who utilised it well.

 

The Indian seamers generally bowled much fuller than the Australians and forced their batsmen to play deliveries that could have been left well alone. Irfan Pathan utilised the famous Fremantle Doctor that blows over the stadium and produced beautiful away swing from the left handers. He was the nemesis of both openers Rogers and Phil Jacques.

 

And that is probably where things have changed now. There is no Pathan at Perth this time. While Zaheer Khan is no doubt superb to left-handed batsmen, I don’t know if he swings it quite as much as Pathan could when he was on. Also, the Australians have learnt from their mistakes and abandoned the back-of-a-length style they favoured through the last decade. At both Melbourne and Sydney, they troubled Indian batsmen by drawing them into the drive with juicy full length deliveries. If they keep up their good work, India will be hard pressed to repeat the miracle at Perth. I also doubt if MS Dhoni would emulate Anil Kumble’s positive approach in batting first at Perth, should he win the toss, given that the batsmen let him down at Sydney.

 

Make no mistake, the outlook is pretty bleak for an Indian supporter right now. But that is just the way things were in 2008 too. We didn’t truly believe India would fight back so brilliantly at Perth back then and that’s why the result took us by surprise. I am sure if India repeats the feat this time at Perth, it would be an even greater shock for us, as well as for Australia.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)