Once again India had Australia on the ropes and once again they have allowed victory to slip out of their grasp. While one might say that India have certainly improved over the last few overseas tours, but the question still persists: is this crop of Indian bowlers capable of taking twenty wickets? You will find that not many would place their money on that.
On the first day of the traditional Boxing Day Test, importunate and relentless bowling by India had brought four afternoon wickets. Australia’s middle-order vulnerability had been exposed, as it has been all through the tour, the inconsistent Shaun Marsh and the debutant Joe Burns sent on their way.
Australia were five 216-5 when Brad Haddin walked out to the middle. Since his Ashes heroics a year earlier, Haddin has played thirteen innings with a top score of a meagre twenty-two. He has registered eight single-figure scores at an average of 8.36. Once Haddin negotiated the initial burst of frantic and almost mindless short pitched bowling he started to get into his groove and made a valuable half century. Steve Smith at the other end was smothering the Indian attack and he seemed to be in a different world altogether and made a stupendous knock of 192.
Following India in Tests is mightily frustrating. It’s well known that their bowling attack still lacks polish, especially on foreign shores. Yet, in each Test this series, their bowlers have got themselves into the game, only to let it slip. The bowling always falls away. Deliveries grow erratic, boundaries accrue, pressure is released and, more often than not, catches go down. India have had many strong sessions this series, in contrast to the way their ageing and diffident champions were brushed aside last time around. However, it is almost impossible to explain why they tend to struggle against the tailenders.
The problem with the strategy of trying to get a batsman caught in the deep on the leg side is that when the plan doesn’t work, it backfires spectacularly. Only in the last Test, India had squandered an advantage by peppering Mitchell Johnson with bouncers even while he was swatting them away. The ball kept eluding the fielders and it made no sense to persist with that approach. There is a simple reason of course why balls tend to elude fielders in the deep: the gaps are much wider. That’s why trying to get people caught in the slips is generally considered a better idea in cricket.
To be brutally honest, this Australian batting line-up isn’t one which should send shivers down the bowler’s spine. With all due respect, only David Warner and Steve Smith look set for the long run. To allow the tailenders to combine together and score about 250 runs just once is a crime; to repeat the same mistake again is downright atrocious. One really can’t point out a reason for this, but one thing is for sure, the bowlers are being influenced wrongly. The best way to get tailenders out is to treat them as top order batsmen and bowl consistent lines and lengths and remain patient, keeping on probing away.
“Get them out early this morning, that was the plan, but unfortunately Smith batted really well.” That was Ashwin’s evaluation of Day 2 of the MCG Test. No batsman “unfortunately” moves from 72 to 192. It’s not a little slip-up like dropping a lunchtime pie. But if this is not just glib media talk, if this actually represents the way of thinking and the lack of accountability in the Indian squad, it’s no wonder they’re letting Test matches squelch face down on to the concrete. Right now, India needs a little less sauce and a lot more substance.
The broadcasters showed some damning stats accentuating India’s struggles to take the final three wickets of an innings in recent years. India has the poorest record among all Test playing nations of highest average runs conceded to the last three wickets of the opposition batting line up, even worse than the likes of Bangladesh. It is a blatantly mortifying statistic.
And once again, it’s pretty sad to see the way things are panning out for India in the bowling side of things. One can only hope that they learn from their errors soon and start delivering on the biggest stage.
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