At the end of each Test of this series, we scored positives and negatives from the Test just Match concluded. At the end of the 1st Test in Bangalore, we scored India just marginally ahead, with 13-12. Mohali was a match in which India-dominated everything and ended up 25-0.
After the conclusion of the 3rd Test, which ended in a draw, both Australia and India can take some positives. I’d like to think that Australia came out of the Test match with their noses in front… just! Both teams need to dwell on a few negatives too.
For each of the dimensions below, I distributed 5 points between the two teams.
The result: India 2.0, Australia 3.0
In my books, both teams came out even from this Test match. Unlike the 1st Test in Bangalore, where Australia may have won had it pressed on with greater urgency — particularly in the timing of the 2nd Innings declaration — there was nothing here in the Delhi pitch to suggest that a result would be possible even if the teams had played on for another day or two! However, after facing a huge mountain, Australia played exceedingly well to come within spitting distance — had to use that term as a tribute to Big Merv, who is there in India at the moment — of the Indian total! Not many teams would have been able to put up such a creditable backs-to-the-wall effort. Australia did, and full marks to them for having done so.
India played 1 bad days’ cricket in 10 days and that basically cost the team. If the Indian team had held its catches, it is remotely likely that India may have gone into the 4th Test 2-0 up! Instead the teams go to Nagpur with a draw sufficient for India to regain Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT). Australia needs to win to draw the series and to retain the BGT. Australia will need to make all the running at Nagpur.
India, however, can be satisfied in the continuance of a recent trend (albeit, bucked by the tour of Sri Lanka). Often, India’s famous wins have been immediately followed by an embarrassing loss. Adelaide 2003 and Johannesburg, December 2006 are painful examples. To erase this blot was an important step that India needed to make in order to make that move from being a good team to a very good team.
Consistent performance is what great teams, like Australia, are able to bring to the table. More recently, however, India has been putting in performances like The Oval, 2007 (although I still feel that India should have gone for a victory there) and Adelaide, 2008. And there are other recent examples. Although Colombo 2008 bucked this trend, I do feel that India is slowly turning the corner when it comes to consistency of performance pressure. From that point of view, a draw is something that India will take gladly out of the Kotla game.
A draw was, of course, a terrific result Australia. It keeps Australia in the series. But, unlike Bengaluru (where Australia won 14 of the 15 sessions of the Test match and still drew!), at Kotla, the SBS Score Card at the end of the game read 7.5-7.5! This was an even Test match.
Hence the 2-3 score to Australia on this dimension.
Overall bowling effort: India 3.5, Australia 1.5
I start this by noting that India is the only team that has taken 20 wickets in a Test in this series! At the Kotla, although neither team looked likely to take 20 wickets, only India made something happen with the ball. Even in the 2nd Innings it was more through batting laziness and batting sloppiness that Australia got the four Indian wickets (I am not counting Ishant Sharma’s night-watchman wicket here).
The Australian pacemen were bowling up-and-down stuff and the spinners didn’t do much at all. A concern is that Stuart Clark has just taken 2 wickets in this series thus far — and one of them is Ishant Sharma!
That wasn’t quite the case with the Indian bowlers though. The new ball bowlers made something happen. Amit Mishra, playing in only his second Test match will have learned a lot from the Kotla experience. And Virender Sehwag was a total revelation. Given that India did not have Harbhajan Singh and given that Anil Kumble was out of the Test match for a long period at a crucial time, I thought India came out of this department with a slightly better edge. On this tour, given a slightly more responsive pitch — with more turn through the middle and a bit more bounce — I have greater confidence that the Indian bowlers will use it than I am of the Australian bowlers.
With Harbhajan Singh slotting in for Anil Kumble, I do not see a major change in India’s bowling stocks for the Nagpur Test match.
Australia looks somewhat bereft of ideas in the bowling stakes and needs a bit of an overhaul in this department. It would all depend on the pitch, but Australia does need to look really hard at Jason Krejza. I can’t see the value to the team of Cameron White, especially if he is used after Michael Clarke as a bowler!
Overall batting effort: India 2.0, Australia 3.0
I score Australia ahead in this dimension because of the splendid backs-to-the-wall effort by the team. Not many teams can play as well as Australia did to wipe out a 613 run deficit! The pace was set by the assured manner in which Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich opened. This Zen-like pace was continued right through the innings. Every batsman chipped in and contributed to the team-cause. It wasn’t the most pretty sight, but it doesn’t need to be. Australia has often confused aggression with attractiveness. Ask Gavaskar and he’ll tell you that you can be aggressive even in tight defence! That is what khadoos cricket is. And that is what Australia played. They didn’t let the opposition into the game and slowly shut the door on an Indian victory.
Of course, this followed the khadoos effort of the Indians in the 1st Innings. There are two reasons I give the Australians the edge in this dimension though, (a) All Australian batsmen contributed, while for India, Sehwag and Dravid did not contribute, (b) It is not easy to carry out a backs-to-the-wall effort so clinically and with an absence of panic.
I can’t see Australia changing its batting composition or order.
India, however, will need to get Laxman in at #3 and, unfortunately, this means that Dravid drops to $5 in the Nagpur Test match. This is necessary in my view.
The Fielding, Intensity and Fields: India 2.0, Australia 3.0
This is not really a surprise. There were quite a few lapses in the field from India, particularly on day-4. A few run-out chances went begging. A few sharp chances — particularly close-in — were spilled or not attempted. India does need to lift its game in this regard. Unlike the Bangalore effort, I thought Gautam Gambhir was much sharper at forward short-leg in Delhi. This augurs well for India. However, it is the out-fielding that is of greatest concern. One would have thought that under Dhoni, the fielding intensity would pick up a notch. But strangely, the worst fielding commenced when Dhoni was in charge! Having said that, I am not sure we need to see the captain stomping around in an open demonstration of displeasure.
Leadership: India 2.5, Australia 2.5
The only reason for scoring this even was because of India’s poor intensity on day-4. Ironically, this phase commenced when Dhoni was captaining for Anil Kumble! I thought Dhoni’s tactics in opening with Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra was a bit strange. Moreover, continuing a somewhat listless Zaheer Khan for a while longer than necessary was also similarly strange. The best bowlers the previous day had been Ishant Sharma and Virender Sehwag and they ought to have opened. Moreover, it may have been easier for Virender Sehwag to bowl with a slightly newer ball which was only 5-6 overs old! Having said this, had Ishant Sharma caught that catch off Amit Mishra’s bowling, who knows how the match would have ended up? But more importantly, it was the lack of intensity on the field on day-4 that the Indian captains (Kumble and Dhoni) need to take responsibility for. It seemed that the Indians had decided that all they needed to do to win the match was to show up on day-4!
Australia would have been way ahead in the leadership stakes but for the somewhat bizarre choices that Ricky Ponting made on the field. He under-used Simon Katich and over used both Shane Watson and Michael Clarke in my view. Simon Katich, the finger spinner, was more likely to cause damage than either Michael Clarke or Cameron White!
So, in terms of the overall result, I score it: India-12, Australia-13!
Overall, Australia can perhaps claim to be marginally ahead at the end of the 3rd Test… just! And that is mainly due to the tremendous batting effort. However, Australia has to make all the running at Nagpur. I do see a danger for Australia in the sense that the bowlers have not really looked likely to take batsmen out and India is the only team to have taken 20 wickets in a match in this series thus far.
Harbhajan Singh should return for India and that should, if nothing else, spice things up! Gautam Gambhir, if he plays, will need to share Chloe Saltu’s headlines with Harbhajan Singh, the player rather than Harbhajan Singh the spectator!
Anil Kumble will be there to see if his ‘Vision’ for Indian cricket is in safe custody. I believe it is. He will want to see that the job that he started will continue through. Sourav Ganguly will be playing his last Test match and V. V. S. Laxman will be playing his 100th Test Match at Nagpur.
Had Kumble played too, five India players will have played 100 or more Test matches in the same Test match — not sure how often that has happened in a Test match!
But all of this will be somewhat irrelevant when the two captains stride out for the toss at Nagpur. It should make for a cracker of a Test match there.