Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-2


Indian sluggishness destroys a good bowling effort…

At the start of the day, I said to my friend that, after India’s excellent showing on day-1 of the ongoing Test, day-2 would present a significant opportunity for Indian cricket to take a bold and convincing step forward into a new era. Such dreams were shattered by an inept batting display that let down the hopes of a nation.

The last time India visited Australia in 2003, a good Boxing Day was followed by a “normal programming resumes” day! This time around, after India’s bowlers had done all the hard yards on day-1 of this episode of the Boxing Day Test match, the batsmen squandered the advantage on day-2!

Agreed, the Australian bowlers bowled spelindldly. However, cricket is played as much in the mind as it is on the park! When Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer walked in to bat on this lovely summer morning, they played as though they were playing in a warfield in Southern Iraq that had randomly placed landmines in it! Such was their tentativeness and such was their negative approach. The Australians, on the other hand, looked purposeful and looked like they wanted to defend a low “on or slightly below par” score.

Rahul Dravid took forever to get off the mark and faced every ball in Mitchell Johnston’s initial spell of seven overs! It was as if he had forgotten that singles were possible — not that he was striking boundaries by the truckload! His painful 66-ball stay yielded just 5 runs! Along the way, he survived a close LBW shout, a catch attempt at gully as well as a catch at slip off a no-ball!

It is not as if one should pin India’s bad day at the office on Rahul Dravid alone! All the batsmen should put their hand up and accept collective responsibility. However, a start is so very important in Australia — as Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag so aptly demonstrated on the last visit by India to these shores. One can’t help but ask why Virender Sehwag was cooling his heels in the pavillion. Instead, we had an accommodation that stuffed up two players! Yuvraj Singh was accommodated at #6 and this pushed Rahul Dravid up to open (wrong move #1) and V. V. S. Laxman to #3 (wrong move #2). As I said in my previous post, India should have opened with Virender Sehwag and made the hard, difficult and painful decision of dropping Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid is not an opener and was sacrificed in todays’ game. The advantage that the bowlers had dealt was blown. The mindset was negative from the outset and this mood was perhaps transferred onto the rest of the team. Batting is all about momentum and Rahul Dravid combined well with Wasim Jaffer to shift the momentum to Australia. The later batsmen struggled to shove crap uphill after that.

And this is where the silly idea of having just one practice game prior to the Boxing Day Test match was most rudely exposed. If the Indians had more than a match, the batsmen could have got their bearings. The team itself could have tried a few options, particularly in the all-important opening slot.

The Australian bowlers bowled excellently and to a plan. They bowled on or outside the off stump. They hardly bowled on the legs of the Indian batsmen, allowing them the luxury to whip the ball to leg!

Fours were hard to come by and this is more because of the slow outfield. Good shots stopped short of the boundary ropes. I think this was pathetic for a quality Test match and hopefully Cricket Australia will do something about this. Having said that, both teams get the same ground to bat on. So one should not complain too much. However, it is perhaps common knowledge that Indian players are more boundary hitters than sharp-single-runners! And here, beacuse of the pathetic nature of the MCG outfield, they were at a disadvantage.

Where Ricky Ponting erred, in my view, was by over-bowling Brad Hogg. One just could not understand why this somewhat ordinary Chinaman bowler got to bowl 21 overs! At the other end, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark were causing mayhem and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Unless Ponting wanted Hogg to have an extended bowling spell and thereby, bowl the spinner into form in the lead up to the second innings and then, the Sydney Test, this extended spell made no sense to me at all. Although Hogg did pick up two wickets, I am not sure I would agree that these wickets could be credited to good bowling!

Apart from Sachin Tendulkar and to some extent Sourav Ganguly, the rest of the Indian batsmen seemed to be batting on another pitch altogether! Tendulkar was magical. From the moment he walked in, every shot he played had class and magical stamped all over it. But just when his partnership with Laxman was starting to find its bearings, Laxman got a lifter from Brett Lee that he could only poke at to the slips area in an ugly manner. And just when Tendulkar’s partnership with Ganguly started to flower, Tendulkar bottom edged a short wide-of-off ball onto his stumps — he has got out to this type of shot quite a bit in the recent past, including last week, against the Victorians! Yuvraj Singh came and went and so did M. S. Dhoni. Yuvraj Singh stodd his ground for a long time, giving one the impression that he was done in by the umpire! But replays were inconclusive. Ganguly was bowled by a ball that kept extremely low — even Trevor Chappell may have struggled to get that low height on a ball bowling underam to the New Zealanders!! The Indian innings was just falling apart. And soon enough, it did. The fact that the score almost touched 200 was thanks to a gutsy effort by the indefatigable Anil Kumble.

In the end, Australia came back to bat and rattled up a quick 32 runs in 8 overs! R. P. Singh was torn apart in an over and the normally cool-headed youngster seemed to be losing the plot here.

I can’t see a way out for the Indians here. One bad day at the office has perhaps set the tone for the entire summer! The weather looks good for the next few days. So the possibility of a Lords’-like escape is somewhat remote. This is certainly a backs-to-the-wall fight that will test the character of Anil Kumble and his men.

— Mohan

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