Tag Archives: India v Australia

Catalyst for change

Close to 5 years ago, India sent its “best” team to the West Indies to play the World cup. Expectations were high – the team had Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag, Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, etc, etc. We had forgotten that India had taken quite a beating against South Africa in South Africa in the one day series (4-0), but a ODI series against WI and Sri Lanka at home, which India won somehow convinced everyone that everything was OK. As we all know, that was India’s worst World cup performance, crashing out in the first round.

In a way, that was one of the best things that happened to Indian Cricket. The loss hurt India so much that it became the catalyst for a turn around. In the next four years or so, India managed to win the World T20 cup, the #1 ranking in tests and finally finishing up with the World Cup last year.

I can see some similarities with the World cup in 2007 to the current Australian tour. Before this series, India were white washed in England, but then beat West Indies convincingly at home. Suddenly, the defeat in England was forgotten and everyone were convinced that this was the team that was going to beat Australia in Australia. The current defeat in Australia has been quite humiliating, and although we haven’t seen the effigy burning and stone throwing at players’ houses (Thank God for that) or the kind of mass anger against the players that we saw after the World cup result, I still hope the Australia tour result can become a catalyst for change.

Before the start of the 3rd Test, I was trying to sound positive and indicated that it wasn’t as bad as it was made to appear, and India could still salvage some pride in the series. The end result, however was quite the opposite and India lost the match in just 3 days. I don’t want to dissect the result and comment on what went wrong – there were just too many starting with the team composition (I think we should have just gone with the same team as Sydney).

(I can point out though that none of the things I mentioned in my previous post were carried out or triedSad smile)

However, it was interesting to read some of the comments in this blog during the course of the game Smile – There was one comment in particular I found quite interesting, and I agree with quite a few things said. But here are a few of my thoughts –

  • I find people asking for Dhoni’s resignation of captaincy absurd. Just 6 months ago, he could do no wrong. Suddenly Captain Cool has become Captain Indifferent. It is easy for people to ask for Dhoni to be sacked without specifying a replacement. Who would you replace Dhoni with? Sehwag? Gambhir? Both their batting form is questionable too.
  • Everyone want the seniors in the team to be dropped. I agree that the seniors have failed in this series, but if you look at the averages of the batsmen since the beginning of 2011, then Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman top the list – the next best is R. Ashwin!
  • But that doesn’t mean the seniors have to continue on. The failure of the seniors have finally given India the opportunity to start thinking about a succession plan. The first “senior” that needs to go is Laxman (who has the poorest record of all three – and also the poorest in terms of fitness).
  • We don’t have an overseas Test series coming up any time soon. The next  one  outside of the sub-continent isn’t until November 2013 against South Africa – it gives a perfect opportunity for us to get the “seniors” to retire at home this year (the sooner the better) and start blooding the next generation of players.
  • If things work according to plan, we should have bid farewell to Laxman, Dravid, Zaheer and Tendulkar by then. It would be really sad to see them go, but it just needs to happen.
  • There is plenty of talk about IPL being a bad influence – I disagree. It has both good and bad bits to it, and is a good place to start picking players to play in International T20 matches or even in ODIs.
  • To pick players for the Test team, we need a strong domestic competition, with good sporting pitches, that give results (the kind of pitch that was made for the Ranji Trophy final is a good example of a bad pitch). I think the domestic competition is still not good enough.
  • We also need plenty of India A tours. Why can’t an overseas tour be preceded by a India A tour? It would be a really good place to try out bench strength just before the actual tour starts.

-Mahesh-

India Australia team comparisons…(part 1)

The Aussie fan –

India can only play in India – they can’t win anywhere else

The Indian retort –

At least India can play in India, the Aussies can’t even win in Australia anymore…

And so goes the exchange between fans of these two countries on the web and elsewhere. The funny thing is that these two former No.1 ranked teams  are nowhere as strong as they were a few months ago, in spite of what the fans think.

The Aussie decline has probably been the greatest, but they were a much better team to start with. With injuries, retirements and lack of form taking over, the Aussies no longer have the air of invincibility they once had – not even at home. Who would have thought that they would lose to a NZ team that doesn’t even contain a Vettori ?

India is a slightly different story, they came up the rankings due to combination of self-belief, improved performance and the decline of other teams. They had the #1 Test ranking, and the ODI World Cup in its trophy cupboard, before the reality check in England.

One thing is certain though – both teams are equally matched, IMO – even if form guide and one on one comparisons says otherwise.

One on one comparisons

Let us go with the team that is likely to play in the Boxing day test:

Australia: Warner, Watson, Khawaja, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon

India: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli, Dhoni, Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

It is of course too early to call the exact team – particularly the Aussie team makeup is still unclear. Will Watto play just as a batsman, or would they bring in someone like Ed Cowan? If Cowan plays, would it be a good idea to play an all rounder like Christian in and drop Khawaja?

Similarly, for India would Zaheer be fit enough to be an automatic selection? Will Ishant’s ankle recover on time ? Would Rohit Sharma be a better choice than Virat Kohli? Would you play Ojha instead of Ashwin?

But if we go with what we have now, here is my list on who holds the edge:

India

Australia

Who holds the edge?

Sehwag Warner There is a lot of similarity in the way both players bat. I personally think Warner will be a better Test player than a ODI or T20 player; but Sehwag with his experience definitely holds the edge
Gambhir Watson Watson if he can bowl, but it appears that he is still not fully fit to bowl, so I would rate this matchup as even
Dravid Khawaja Dravid. His resurgence in form this year has been brilliant, but even if he wasn’t amongst runs, he would still rate higher than new comer Khawaja
Tendulkar Ponting This would have been an even match a couple of years ago. Not anymore. Tendulkar clearly holds the edge.
Laxman Clarke This one is a hard matchup, but I would have to give it to Clarke because of the additional things he brings on to the field – his bowling and fielding. But Clarke just edges Laxman out. Just.
Kohli Hussey Hussey would a be clear favourite against newcomer Kohli, even with the slight dip in form he has had in the last 2 series.
Dhoni Haddin Their wicket keeping skills are probably even, but I’d rather have Dhoni batting to save or win a game than Haddin any day.
Z Khan Siddle An uninjured Zaheer would tip Siddle, but given he is coming back from injury, I would say the scales would tip towards Siddle
I Sharma Pattinson I would call this even. Pattinson is the in form bowler, but Ishant bowled well in West Indies.
Yadav Starc There is nothing to pick here. Even.
Ashwin Lyon Again, hard to make a call. Ashwin is probably a better bat than Lyon, but I’d call this even.

So, my one on one comparisons, put India slightly ahead of Australia.

Form guide, stats and other trivia

Let us first look at the form of the team and some additional stats.

 

India

Australia

Played in last 12 months 13 games – 4 wins, 5 losses 10 games – 4 wins, 4 losses
Last 5 games DWWLL
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
LWWLD
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
ICC rank 2 (Rating – 118) 4 (Rating – 103)
Debuts in the last 12 months Unadkat
Kohli
P Kumar
A Mukund
R Ashwin
U Yadav
VR Aaron
MA Beer
U Khawaja
TA Copeland
NM Lyon
SE Marsh
PJ Cummins
Pattinson
Warner
Starc
The aging club Dravid (38)
Tendulkar (38)
Laxman (37)
Ponting (37)
Hussey (36)
Haddin (34)

There is nothing much separating the two teams on wins and losses in the last 12 months – If it weren’t for India’s series against England, their record would have looked a lot better than the 4-5 win-loss ratio this year.

India are also higher on the ICC Ranking (which I don’t think adds any value to the actual team comparisons). An interesting statistic is the fact that India have tried out 7 new players in their 13 games, whereas Australia have tried out 9 in their 10 games. Of this list, there are 3 people still in the Indian team (Kohli, Ashwin and Yadav) and 5 in the Australian team. What this means is that nearly half the Australian team is new to Test cricket!

Sleeper Hit

Two closely fought Tests, one of them a nail-biting humdinger. India blanks Australia. Sachin Tendulkar is Player of the Series. There’s little more an Indian fan might ask of a Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series. Squeezed in to fortify India’s hold on the pole position in the ICC Test Rankings, it transcended the script of a potboiler in its journey from sleeper hit to blockbuster. Oscillating, as it did, between the subdued and the sublime, it rode the grind to showcase the grand. Blue collar in effort and yet blue chip in dividend.

Tendulkar has hardly ever given in to boisterous celebration of personal milestones, quite a few of which punctuated the latest duel with the Antipodeans. The roar of exultation that escaped him on completing the winning run though, betrayed the special regard he holds for the collective. The rare vulnerability to emotion provided a fascinating insight into what the latest achievement meant to the team. The legitimacy of India’s ranking is still sub-judice, but their A-game, as and when they unleash it, befits their top billing. For the first time since they reached the top of the totem pole, they played like they belonged there. Although stiffer challenges lie ahead, Dhoni’s men deserve to be proud of the last fortnight. A textbook Test series, gritty, intense and keenly contested, has also helped clear some of the murkiness brought on by the sleaze of spot-fixing.

The biggest peeve with 50-over cricket is its rote formula. And yet how fascinating was it to watch two Tests follow identical plots; screenplays whose singular idioms were the slow-burner and status quo. Except for days 3 & 5 in Bengaluru, neither team bossed a full day’s play across both matches. The said two days of Indian domination perhaps separated both the sides, by a margin that seems heavily exaggerated. Both stories unravelled slowly, proceeded in flux, seemed destined for stalemate until the cusps of climax, when a potluck of skill, fate, nous, gut and spirit contrived to produce a result. The much lamented absence of a third helping may have been rendered moot by the 2-0 result, but one cannot help but wonder if some of the tactics deployed by Australia may have been different in a longer rubber.

India will take a lot of heart from the fact that almost every individual did his two bit for the larger cause. Sachin lorded over the entire series and Laxman’s masterpiece in minutiae stole the thunder at Mohali, but an unfit Gambhir apart, not one member of the side can be accused of not making his presence felt. Dhoni himself didn’t have the best of times or tosses, but rang in an assortment of inspired moves to seize initiative. He enjoys the 90% luck that Richie Benaud deems crucial for captaincy, but also possesses the critical 10% skill without which the grey eminence of commentary doesn’t recommend taking up the job. When it mattered, both skipper and team always found an enforcer. It was a major triumph for Test cricket as the world’s leading T20 star played ombudsman to the grievance against awarding Tests to venues which don’t cherish them enough. BCCI’s deign off their high horse to scrutinise UDRS is also a significant step forward.

Watching Vijay & Pujara bat together on the final day made me rack my memory for the previous instance of 2 top order Indian batsmen in concert, neither of whom answered to the names of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman or Ganguly. The best I could come up with was Jaffer-Karthik in 2007, and before that, Das-Ramesh in 2001. For a middle order pairing, we may have to go back to 1995. The duo also manned silly positions on either side, in a throwback to 1998, when 2 of India’s current slippers – Dravid & Laxman – cut their teeth at short leg & silly point. It isn’t quite end-of-an-era, but a reality check has never appeared as emphatic. Already, Raina has woken Yuvraj up to the rude fact that an injury might cost you more than just one game. Vijay, with Abhinav Mukund not far behind, must certainly have Gambhir sweating. Pujara, earmarked to step into Dravid’s shoes, tried them on for size, and found that he quite liked them. Amidst a flurry of piercing drives & rousing pulls was a nifty back foot punch, as he persuaded a grubber through extra cover to exorcise the ghosts of his first innings dismissal. A pinch of salt is not out of place, for the young guard, with a combined experience of a dozen Tests, is yet to be stretched beyond our shores by the rigorous investigations of swing, bounce & the end of honeymoon.

Let’s spare a thought for Ricky Ponting, who has surely played his last Test in India. Like England, it hasn’t been favourite destination for Punter the captain, and unlike the Old Blighty, for Punter the batsman too. It is a pity since he is one of the most captivating batsmen to watch. While he only managed about half the runs that the alpha male in the opposite camp scored, I hope his abbreviated masterclass in his final innings on our soil leaves a lasting impression in our hearts. May that rasping pull shot live on.

When Pujara walked out at the fall of the first wicket, a friend dropped me a line. He said, “Pujara in Dravid’s place is the sign of things to come. If you remember, something similar happened in Kolkata in 2001. My hunch is that this is going to help the team win with confidence and also set the ball rolling for the future.” One half of his hunch did come true. Now for the second!

An aside:

Isn’t it curious how a succession of promising Tamil Nadu middle order batsmen starting from S. Sharath (anyone remember him?), across Robin Singh & Hemang Badani and now S. Badrinath, have been passed over for white flannelled honours, in spite of solid first-class records? Curiouser, that the same fate has evaded openers from the land, going back from M. Vijay to S. Ramesh, W.V. Raman and Kris Srikkanth.

– TS Kartik

Series a lot closer than result suggests

A 2-0 whitewash of Australia may seem to indicate that India dominated the two test series – far from it, it was a closely fought series and India happened to win the key moments of both games.

In the first test, an LBW decision against Ojha or the Steve Smith run out in the last few minutes of the game would have meant an Indian loss. And even though one team held a slight advantage over the other at the end of each of the five days, the result could have gone either way.

The second test was no different – Even when Australia went in on the fifth day morning with a lead of close to 200 and 2 wickets in hand, the game could have gone either way. Full credit to the Aussies for providing a wonderful contest. One couldn’t help but wonder why they played a 2-Test series – this just doesn’t do India-Australia tests any justice.

Indian positives

  • The batting line up showed a glimpse of the future. There were 3 relative new comers in the batting line up in the last test – Vijay, Pujara and Raina.
  • At the beginning of the series, I mentioned how important it was for Vijay to score a century if he has to establish himself in the team and he did just that. It couldn’t have come at a better time with India chasing 478 in the first innings.
  • Over 3 and half years ago, we pimped Pujara as a prospect for India, and yesterday he finally arrived on the scene with a confident fourth innings 72 on debut. It is a pity that both Vijay and Pujara will have to vacate their places when Gambhir and Laxman make their way back in to the team.
  • Zaheer Khan was India’s best bowler on display and he also ended up taking the most wickets in the series. Ishant bowled one good spell in the second innings (which as it turned out was vital in the scheme of things), and Sreesant showed why he should he part of the South African tour later this year. If all three are fit and bowling to their potential, the Proteas better watch out Smile
  • The biggest positive for India was of course Sachin Tendulkar. Laxman may have won us the match in Mohali, but it was Sachin who won us the series with his 400+ runs in a two match series. Sachin also regained the ICC #1 ranking during the course of the second test.
  • Attitude – Under Dhoni’s leadership, there is a kind of mental toughness in this team. This was clearly evident on the last day of both matches.

Scope for improvement

  • I thought Harbhajan Singh could have performed better (although he was #2 on the wickets list in this series). Ojha, IMO bowled better than Harbhajan Singh in this series.
  • The number of no balls bowled by some of the Indian bowlers is a concern – particularly when 3 of these no balls resulted in wickets in the series!
  • Dravid succumbed to a left arm seamer three times in this series edging the ball on all three occasions (in fact Ponting missed a trick, when Dravid came out to bat – I was surprised to see Hilfenhaus replace Johnson even before Dravid had a faced a single ball of him!) – I am sure he will work on it (TV footage showed him practicing just that in the nets).
  • The short ball is another worry. I think the likes of Raina haven’t done enough to prove that they are comfortable against the shorter ball (and the Proteas are taking note)
  • Barring Ishant Sharma, the rest of the tail succumbed way too quickly to offer any comfort.
  • Gambir’s injuries. Although Vijay has stepped in for him, we need a fit Gambhir at the top of the order.

The Aussie view

  • Somehow the Aussies see this tour more of an opening act and that the main act is the Ashes this year.  They had hoped they would have found the answers they were looking for, but there are more unanswered questions than there were before they started the tour
  • Ponting came to India as a captain who hasn’t won a single test match here and he went back with that dubious record intact. Some of his moves were brilliant and some of them were pretty ordinary. In the end, when it it mattered the most, his captaincy was just not up to scratch.
  • The batting is heavily reliant on the top 3 in the batting order – Katich, Watson and Ponting. The middle order has just not fired. North may have saved his place in the team with a hundred in the 2nd test, but I am not convinced he is the best choice for the spot he is occupying. Hussey and Clarke are another worry – they just didn’t fire.
  • Indians play spin well, but that is no excuse for Hauritz. His bowling just looked ordinary. England may be a different kettle of fish.
  • Paine was just brilliant – it is a pity, he will have to sit out when Haddin comes back in to the team.
  • George may not be amongst the wickets, but I think he is definitely a good find and someone for the future.

-Mahesh-

WHADDAPLAYA

Somebody please get V.V.S. Laxman a dictionary. He needs to be sat down and told that once-in-a-lifetime knocks are not supposed to be played more than once in a lifetime! Not after that 281. And you definitely don’t do it twice in 2 tests running. On 2 difficult pitches, against 2 competitive attacks, and on either occasion, a good strike rate & a bad back. At Mohali, he even overcame the absence of pedigreed company.

Any literature on Laxman is under obligation to make special mention of his record against the Aussies. With due respect to Messrs Border & Gavaskar, the marquee standing of the eponymous trophy is due in no small measure to Laxman. In recent times, India has been served well by Sehwag running away with the game in the first dig (while batting first), with Dravid & Tendulkar providing sound consolidation. Laxman reserves his best for later, the 2nd, the 3rd & the 4th innings.

Allow me to indulge in a sample of Indian victories against the Aussies over the last decade featuring Laxman specials. Starting with the 2nd innings, Dravid’s moment in the sun was put to shade when the Hyderabadi illuminated the Adelaide Oval in 2003 with his radiant brilliance. The  3rd innings of a Test belongs to him, as the theatre does to Naseeruddin Shah. On a Wankhede pitch with more spite than a spurned maiden, Laxman conjured 69 miracles. As with most of his teasing cameos on tricky surfaces, he seemed to be performing a ballet on a different plane. The veneer of pristine virginity in his art often facades the sheathing of steel underneath, an exception being the famous Perth victory. Bartering silk with sinew, and sacrificing finesse for fibre, his 79 was pretty much the margin of victory. And oh of course, the epic at Eden Gardens…enough said. The Chennai Test of the same series set a precedent for the latest 4th innings effort; his final day 66 almost sealed the deal, before it was terminated abruptly by a Mark Waugh blinder.

Laxman has taken people’s minds off Ram. And Rajnikanth! No mean feat this.

Post-script

My previous post is testimony to my theory that in Test matches with high first innings totals, with the team batting second finishing slightly behind, the 3rd innings usually witnesses a jittery collapse, facilitating a victory for the team batting last. A short list of such instances (by no means exhausting):

Thanks to Laxman, the Mohali Test proved to be yet another case in point for my theory. But only just.

-i3j3Guest (TS Kartik)

Some random thoughts

  • Ricky Ponting had never won a Test match as captain in India. He looked appeared to break that draught, but it wasn’t to be. Will it happen in Bangalore?
  • After his first innings performance with the ball, injury and no-balls, it appeared that Ishant Sharma would be dropped for the second test. Surely? But after that 3 wicket blast and the best 31 runs of his career, he may have done enough to save his spot. But wait! He has been left out due to his injured right knee.
  • Is anyone else curious as to why Michael Clarke wasn’t given a bowl in this test? I expected Ponting to have thrown the ball to the man with the golden arm as a last resort at least on day 5, when India was getting close to victory. It never happened. (And Katich can bowl too)
  • Marcus North – Has he done enough to get dropped from the team? If he gets dropped, then Hughes probably needs to play in the middle order. But Australia lose a spinner – I thought North even bowled better than Hauritz, who is their first choice spinner. Tough call!
  • Nathan Hauritz hasn’t done enough in this test and didn’t really trouble the batsmen. Is it time to give Steven Smith a chance? And if Bollinger can’t play the 2nd test, then Peter George may make his debut. Or maybe Smith replaces Bollinger and Australia play two spinners and two fast bowlers – a combination they very rarely play. Shane Watson gives them the luxury of doing it though. It is going to be very hard to pick the team for the second test.
  • Gambhir is injured and won’t play the second test. It is more than likely that Vijay will take his spot although Abhinav Mukund has been drafted into the team.
  • Will Laxman play the second test? If he doesn’t, will Pujara replace him? Or will India send an SOS to Yuvraj Singh (who just scored a double hundred in the Irani Trophy).
  • Will Dhoni ever win the toss? Dhoni hasn’t won the toss the whole year! It is time he won the toss and batted first.
  • -Mahesh-

    The Great Escape–Day 5, 1st test

    If the only way you could find out the score was through Cricinfo and you couldn’t get through to the site during the final stages of this game, it was because every Indian around the world was frantically hitting F5 (refresh) on his/her browser window Smile

    It must have been frustrating, not knowing what had happened. Thankfully, it all turned out to be good news for India. When the eighth wicket fell at 124 and India needing close to a hundred runs to win, everyone (including me) had written India off. With Laxman batting with a bad back and a runner with Ishant Sharma at the other end and just Ojha to follow, it was only going to be a matter of time….but the fat lady hadn’t sung yet.

    Somehow, Indian managed to pull it off – this will be remembered as one of the great wins on Indian soil, and firmly belongs with other classics such as Calcutta 2001. The architect of that Calcutta win was again responsible for guiding India through and IMO, should have been named the man of the match. Zaheer went away with the award, but it was Laxman’s magic that eventually won the game. Laxman has had a great run this year and while most people have a modest record in the 2nd innings – Laxman has thrived (his 2nd innings average is 50.47 compared to his 1st innings average of 45.67). Since 2009, every time he has been asked to bat in the 2nd innings, he has had a 50+ score. Laxman has also always reserved special treatment for Australia, against whom he averages 55.58 as opposed to 44.53 against the rest.

    Credit should also be given to Ishant Sharma – coming in at No. 10, he scored 31 valuable runs and more importantly built the highest partnership in the Indian second innings of 81 runs with VVS Laxman. When he was out LBW (which was a questionable decision) to Hilfenhaus , India needed just 11 runs to win. What an effort! After a few tense moments of close LBW shouts, over throws, and confusion while running between the wickets, India managed to get those 11 runs. What a win!

    Although the match was a nail biter in the end, it had its constant ups and downs. Each team somehow contrived to lose a good position every few hours and the match could have gone in either direction. One can’t help but feel sorry for Australia. I now truly believe that the golden era of Australian Test cricket is over – the Australia of old would never have lost a match from such a position of strength as they had today. Surely, they will rise again, but I wouldn’t bet on them regaining the ashes this year.

    This test match had a combination of some good umpiring and some very questionable decisions – and when a match is as close as this, you can’t but wonder what if one of those decisions had gone the other way – India has been hesitant to use the UDRS system and this should be a wake up call for them.

    -Mahesh-