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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Obsession with Batting Heroes

In the continuing debacle of Indian test cricket, analysis and theories abound. There is much passion and disappointment amongst Indian fans. Several explanations proposed with many ringing true. But a lot does seem, let’s say, a bit “Bollywood”. Good or evil, black or white, comedy or tragedy, hero or villain. The ICC World Cup hang-over continues!      
The Sydney victory was a bigger triumph for Australia than the scoreline. An emphatic win in itself, it brought first evidence of consistency for this new Australian side, under skipper Michael Clarke. After mercurial performances in South Africa and against New Zealand at home, two back-to-back convincing victories against the fancied Indian will help build momentum and the winning habit. The return of vintage Ricky Ponting and the batting form of Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey augur well. The most heartening though is the performance of the Australian bowling unit, and mind you not their first string selection this lot. Ben Hilfenhaus has added a few yards, swinging and seaming well, partnering Peter Siddle and James Pattinson, both of whom have bowled with discipline and aggression. The bowling reserve list is rich, allowing Australia to manage injuries as required. Pattinson will be replaced by Ryan Harris at Perth. The only real areas of worry for Australia are the spin and wicket keeping department. Brad Haddin is having a nightmare of a series so far.
India’s troubles overseas continue, with batsmen struggling to play for long periods and occupy the crease for a session of play. Some skill and temperament was on display in the second innings at Sydney, where India managed 400 for the first time in 18 overseas outings. This ratio is evidence of an incompetent batting unit, not a strong one. The misplaced confidence in the batting undoubtedly influenced the team management to elect to bat first in Sydney. Hoping to put up a decent first innings score, put scoreboard pressure on the Aussies and avoid batting last in the match, as they had to in Melbourne. That was the crucial error of the match!

There are superstars in the Indian line up, yet the batting is underperforming consistently. Recent performances suggest India to be a fragile batting side. Excluding the last innings of 400 at Sydney, India averages 245 per innings overseas, since Dec 2010. The sum of individual career averages of the first five Indian batsmen exceeds 250. With six batsmen yet to bat! Rough method, but definitely highlights the anomaly!
Much less gets written or said about Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh, and their contribution to India’s rise to number one Test side. Not until one gets injured and the other underperforms.  Zaheer is now playing from experience, and is lacking the strength and fitness required for his profession. The Indian bowlers toiled for nearly two days, picking one wicket for 622 runs in Sydney, unable to contain the runs or trouble the batsman. That was a real low point for the Indian bowling unit. Dhoni may not have got all his tactics right, but then he was setting fields for experienced bowlers most often, who supposedly had plans of attack or containment. The lack of discipline, temperament and execution was in stark contrast to the Australian bowling attack. The bowling unit needs a big overhaul too.

So what are India’s options going into the Perth test? Given the touring squad, including the other spinner, Pragyan Ojha, is well advised, however the decision to drop Ishant, Yadav or Zaheer will be a tough one. Wonder if track-hitting tall leg-spinner, Rahul Sharma, could be flown in? On a skiddier and bouncy track like Perth, he could be a great option. The calls to replace Virat Kohli with Rohit Sharma will be louder. In my view, dropping Virendra Sehwag down the order, bringing in Ajinkya Rahane for Virat Kohli, to open the batting with Gautam Gambhir might serve the team better. If the team management take courage and rest VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma could be another good addition to the side.
Time for change is well and truly here. India should start taking the hard decisions. It can’t get worse than 4-0, in a four test series, can it?   
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