We are just a couple of weeks into India’s latest encounter down under. A cricket series in Australia is always something that the fans look forward to due to a couple of facts. First of all, we get to see it only once in four years – so it is something as important as the Olympic games! Secondly, it is a beauty to watch and feel professional test cricket at its highest levels with lively pitches, fans, cricket governing bodies and media playing their own roles to perfection – and sometimes beyond – to make it a mega event. Personally, watching test matches, in which Australia participates, gives me more satisfaction than watching matches involving any other competitive teams. India’s last outing in Australia during 2003-04 has been thrilling for the outcome that we all are proud of but the current series is already turning out to be disappointing due to improper planning.
This series was hyped to be the best chance to beat Australia in its own den as it is probably the last Australian tour for India’s ‘strong’ and prolific middle order men as well as their best bowler ever, Anil Kumble, who happens to be captaining the side as well. However, having talent on paper or executing the same in subcontinent pitches and other favourable conditions alone is not sufficient for tours abroad, especially in Australia.
The Indian cricket board missed a trick or two during the Pakistan tour to India itself. If India genuinely wanted to perform in Australia, they should have scheduled at least couple of test matches in good test cricket pitches like Mohali or Chennai. By not doing so, they managed to escape from Shoaib Akhtar & co and won against Pakistan but miserably failing in Australia. As they arrived late in Australia this time and the lone practice match was disturbed by rain, the preparation at home had to be better.
The next mistake was the team selection and continuing experiments with the batting order. If they had any plan to include (surprise!) Virender Sehwag in the squad he should have been given a chance in at least one test match against Pakistan. Sehwag though not in great form gives some headache to the opposition even though his stay at crease may be shorter. Against Australia, one needs to be mentally prepared and try to offend and attack rather than playing defensive game like Dravid did in the first innings of the first test in Melbourne. If not Sehwag, for sure Dinesh Karthik should have been opening with Wasim Jaffer. Karthik has been a revelation during the series in England and South Africa. It is really surprising that the team think tank decided not to play him due to his couple of failures in dead pitches in India. Ideally he could have played the role that Akash Chopra played in the last series in Australia. On the other hand, the Indian team management decided to sacrifice the stability and composition of the team by not picking the right openers only to include some flat pitch heroes or ODI/Twenty 20 specialists in the batting lineup. To begin a series with positive frame of mind, India had to really attack. The bowlers did it very well but batsmen spoilt all those great efforts. The problem is not really with the batsmen but the roles they are assigned to play. This failure will definitely affect the rest of the test series as well as the performance in the ODIs. For example, Yuvaraj Singh should have been maintained only for ODIs and his failures in tests will also reflect in his approach to the ODI series.
The untimely statements of the selection committee chairman had created a lot of chaos for the players in the past. It is not his job to comment in the press and put players under pressure. I guess, players like Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Saurav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik and now Rahul Dravid are the victims of this wrong statements of expectation. The under-pressure players then react by playing defensive games and targeting individual achievements rather than playing for the team’s cause.
As I mentioned just a while back, having a positive frame of mind is very important to play Australia. Having restricted Australia to less than 350 runs and more importantly getting them all out in less than a day (How often does it happen?), India’s reply was too negative in nature. Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer didn’t make any attempt to rule the Aussies. Another important thing was that probably the in form Ganguly probably should have batted at No. 4. Tendulkar’s attitude in the second innings is always questionable. While chasing huge scores and if couple of wickets are already down he has this ‘why should I waste my time and energy, anyway we are going to loose’ attitude. Another problem is the fielding ethics by the Indians. Even Australia has many players in their mid thirtys but their commitment is far better than that of the Indians. For example, Indians easily allow the opposition to convert their ones to twos and twos to threes. Australians always keep the batsmen under pressure by charging in or by a sudden pick, turn and throw. The bad running between the wicktes have been another example of defensive cricket by the Indians.
If India has to win at least one match in this series, they need to get their basics right from the selection itself. First they needs to pick their best openers and then three or four middle order batsmen followed by a wicket keeper. Depending on the nature of pitch three seamers plus one spinner or two seamers plus two spinners can be picked. It is even worth trying a combination of two openers, three middle order men, one wicket keeper batsman, three seamers (off which one is an all rounder) and two spinners. Ones they get the team composition right, they can plan and pace the game better. This will also reassure and remind each and every person in the team about their roles.
As a long-term step, the BCCI has to really change their mindset to save the Indian cricket from test matches point of view. At the moment, BCCI is more like running a money making business rather than governing a sports body. Due to this attitude, they are concentrating on categories that fetch in money and hence more focus on one day cricket, telecast rights etc. If they are truly worried about the future of Indian cricket, they need to do a few things like providing world class pitches in India, improving domestic itinerary and format, introducing new talent search program, coming up with fair selection policies, forming succession planning etc. It’s a fact that India’s top four batsmen and bowler will retire from international cricket in less than two years time and who are going to fill in there?
At the moment, as a short term goal, we can only hope for a better team composition and better mindsets from the players in the upcoming test matches in Australia. Wishing the Indian cricket all the very best for this new year and their very first match of the year being played in Sydney!