Over and out.
Over and out.
They came in fast. They charged in furious. They delivered in precision. And they never stopped coming. We fell in a heap. The story repeated. The fall continued. Again and again. The pace battery of Australia assumed the proportions of a battering ram and the battering continued unabated. Until The God fell from his pedestal and was brought down to earth. Until the wall cracked and crumbled. Until the legends lost their greatness and fell from glory. The big guns were silenced. And Indian cricket lay in tatters.
Another series whitewash. The fall from grace that started in England was completed with another similar script in Australia. From the first innings of the first test to the last innings of the last test, the Indian story was the just the same. Repetitive and boring. The story scripted by Clarke & Co. failed to generate thrills because the storyline seemed too predictable. Four venues. Four matches. Four failures. Same players. Same story copied and pasted. Only the duration changed.
Billed as the Agneepath series, with India considered the favourites and Australia the underdogs, Clarke & Co. made sure that the Indians faced the heat rather than them. At the beginning of the series, there was a talk that the Australian camp had a few problems in the batting department. Irregular openers, an out of form middle-order and a captain fighting to gain the respect of his team. Whereas India was a team which had the two greatest run scorers of all times, an opener who could end the game before it all actually began, a very special batsman who took a special liking to Australian bowling and a captain considered to be the shrewdest of cricketing brains around. The four tests that followed resulted in busting many myths about the various sentiments about some India’s all time greats.
More than the defeats the manner in which it was brought upon them was saddening. In all the series that preceded this, even though the series was lost, the Indian team always put up a tough fight and it was remembered for the valiant effort than the defeat. And at times they were brilliant enough to turn the tables on the invincible team of the times and that is what made these men legends. So when the first test ended in four days, there was still hope that they would put up a fight in the next. But that turned out to be a bigger shocker when it ended in four days again with the Indian team refusing to put up a fight. The third one was the most humiliating when they could not fight for more than two and a half days. Australia should have invited Bangladesh rather. They would have done better.
Retirement calls started for the ageing brigade. But though not valiant enough on the field, they shamelessly fought on off it. When the young guns continued their wait for ever to be blooded, the greats continued to hold on to selfish motives. Little did they realize that other legends before them had moved on to bring them in. Little did these guys seem to care about a series white wash. The hope was that the billions back home would be pacified with that one ton even if they went down 4-0.
After three failures, luck had it that the captain was banned. A new captain and a new keeper could change the fortunes of the team. Expectations were that the maverick Sehwag would surprise with his unorthodox ways. Since the series was lost after trying the same tricks in the first three tests, the fourth one could have been taken up for experimentation. Two spinners could have been brought forth. May be Ojha could have replaced Ishant. Kohli could have been sent to open the innings or brought in at no.3. A new opener like Rohit could have replaced Gambhir. Sehwag could have come lower down the order. But it was not to be. He stuck to the conservative and traditional thinking of the think tank. Same field placings. Same mistakes. Same body language. Batting collapse. Some catches dropped. Another record for the Clarke-Ponting pair. The agony continued. Retirement calls grew louder.
The experts analyzed that the Indian greats have outlived their sell by date and could not survive in the swinging conditions in England. And the pacy pitches in Australia. Come Adelaide. It was a batting beauty. A much better batting display was expected from India. Australia’s 600 runs in the first innings gave the Indians the much needed hope. But then Siddle’s riddle caught them unawares. He made the batting pitch look like a lively track. The way he bowled, the Indian’s had no answers again. This test would also have ended in four days had it not been for Clarke’s concern that India could bat them out of the game. But he failed to understand that the Indian cricketers were spineless and had lost all interest for a fight after all the battering they received. Clarke tried to show some sympathy to the Indian batsmen by withdrawing his quick guns and giving them an opportunity to play a game they are experts in. May be the Australians were concerned about the dipping revenues as the first three tests did not last five days. But Lyon proved to be trickier than they expected. The web was spun and the plot only got murkier. He accounted for Sehwag, Sachin and Laxman all great players of spin bowling. And to add insult to injury, Clarke then put all his fielders around the night watchman! Such was the state of the famed Indian batting.
Virat Kohli’s performance was the only blessing that India had. He fought well and used his chances to declare that he is India’s batting mainstay in the future. Ravichandran Ashwin and Umesh also proved that they have it in them to excel in the big stage. Saha too has shown that he is a fighter. They need to cement their places through consistent performance and constant improvements. There are many more spinners, pacers and batsmen waiting in the ranks to grab their opportunities which are sadly not coming by. They will have to bide their time till the big guns call it a day. Or they will have to keep waiting till the selectors realise that the future of Indian cricket lies not in record holders whose glorious days are past but in youngsters who can bring back those glorious days for the country.
India came in to the series after a drubbing in England but were still the favourites. The talks of ageing players on their last legs was more an Australian worry than India’s. A month in to the series, it is the story of a 40 year old Brad Hogg making a come back in to the national reckoning that is doing the rounds and not that of the other old guns having to hang up their boots. It is the turn of the India’s older batting superstars to face the heat. And in all probability it should be the last time we see them all together.
It is strange but also true that much of India’s great success in the past decade was largely due to the determination and collective efforts of a group of dedicated and proud cricketers. While the administrators were busy marketing one-day cricket and later T20 cricket, the selectors seemed more interested in looking after themselves than Indian cricket. In the process, though selection has become a paid job, it is but fair to conclude that it is the players who put the Indian cricket on a pedestal. And now, with the last bunch of those from the great generation on creaky legs and wonky backs, neither the administrators nor the selectors seem to have an answer to India’s problems.
While it is true that India perhaps picked its strongest squad for this series, much of India’s success overseas had to do with its batsmen being able to put up strong scores on the board. Taking 20 wickets was never India’s strongest suit and it needed the big scores to give itself a chance. And it is remarkable as to how they put themselves on top of the world with an average bowling unit at best.
The islanders down south have taken their first steps to clean up their mess by sacking their coach and appointing a new captain. They have revamped their selection committee. India seems to be bullish about its slump and fails to acknowledge its shortcomings. It is blatantly obvious that India has failed to groom its youngsters for the future. Neither the administrators seem bothered nor the selectors. That India will not look to the future in Adelaide is a resounding slap on the all faces of those who care for its cricket.
Adelaide is a no win situation for India with neither the selectors nor the stand-in captain showing any inclination for the need to change. The strength of this side has been its seniors for a decade now. It now seems as though even the selectors seem reluctant to do anything to upset them. Or that they are simply not bothered. It is painful and disrespectful for the ones who care about Indian cricket that the ones that run it seem not bothered about its future.
Irrespective of what transpires at Adelaide, India cannot have the same set of players representing it going forward. A transformation needs to take place between now and in two years’ time, when India set foot off their shores for challenges abroad, a new team, settled and well oiled with Test match cricket over two years should represent it. How India chooses to rebuild will determine how serious it is about its cricket image. It might have to be the players again who lead the change. And once again, it might be a senior who makes it easy on the selectors by announcing his retirement at the end of this Test.
There’s more to lose in Adelaide than just the Test.
David Warner is only five Tests old. In this short span, he has hit a century and another. The second one against India at WACA is the fastest ever to be hit by an opener. And it was completed in a session at the WACA. To hit a century in a session is no mean feat. Something that the greats dream of. The stuff that legends are made of. And it is a rare feat. Warner has announced his arrival in Tests and his stature is growing.
Till a few months ago, he was a Twenty20 hitter, an entertainer who was nowhere in the Test scene. He went around the world playing in T20 leauges entertaining the crowd. The selectors did not have him in the scheme of things. Neither did he have Test cricket in mind. In his own words, he never believed that he could play Test cricket.
All that changed when he was contracted to play in the IPL for the Delhi team which was led by the dashing Virender Sehwag. When Sehwag was a hit in the ODIs, he was also not considered for Tests as the purists felt that his style of play is unsuited for the longer version. But once he was given a chance, he revolutionized and brought entertainment to test cricket batting. Records were rewritten and batting never remained the same again in Tests. It was Viru who instilled in Warner the belief that he would do well in test cricket. Inspired by Sehwag’s words and work, he finally landed up in the Test arena. And the rest as they say is history.
Both the hitting machines shared one thing in common. They both believed in only one thing. The ball is there to be hit and hit hard. The pitch is not a concern, the situation is not a bother and the bowler does not matter. The only thing that mattered was where the ball lands for the fielding team to pick up. They have only one cricket gear, the top gear. So they did not have the confusion of switching it as the situation changed. They go all out from the word go. They try to hit the first ball of the match out of the park. Brought up their centuries with sixes. Lived and died by the sword. And on their day, decimated the opposition in such a way that the destruction was complete and total. They are the weapons of mass destruction in cricket. The similarities do not end. Records fall by the wayside when batting for them is a walk in the park. Sometimes it looks like they are out practicing boundary hitting out in the middle a match.
Though Warner’s debut in Test cricket has coincided with a big slump in form for Viru, for Warner, it is just the beginning. He is an improved version of Viru – faster scoring, farther hitting and better footwork are the improved features in the new version. India’s batting machine reengineered and invented at IPL and launched in Australia with a ‘Made in Australia’ tag. Australians have found a Viru for themselves. A new brand of Test cricket batting belonging to the Viru breed has been launched. The weapon gifted by India is being used against its inventor.
The doubts about the improvement in consistency and longevity can be proved only with time. Such power hitting which can influence the results of 5 day long Tests in a single session is going to be a threat for the Test playing nations and a treat for the fans. These power hitters are definitely going to entertain. India will have to think hard and come out with a better version of Viru to counter the Warner threat. A reloaded version of Viru who can last longer and more often. Or we need to find a newer version. Let’s leave that task to Viru himself.
India stand to lose more than just the series when the third Test gets underway on Friday morning. Talks of both teams going with four quick bowlers have donned the headlines over the last two days, but they have been just a sub-text in a week dominated by Haddin’s claims on India being a side not needing much to turn on each other and Zaheer’s counter claims to it. Perhaps, Haddin folding his hands and saying, “Friday the 13th… be scared India…. be very scared…” is sillier than Hrithik Roshan calling this the Agneepath series. Even though some of the cricket from India in Sydney was pretty silly, none could match these sequence of events over the last week.
From being touted to be the best opening pair in the world two seaons ago, Gambhir and Sehwag have largely disappointed. They were Batman and Robin, Holmes and Watson, and Bryan and Bryan: irresistible and scintillating. They would thrill with their strokeplay and running between the wickets. One would sneeze and the other would catch a cold. Two close pals, one a genius on his day, and the other, a determined soul, needing each other more than ever before to turn it around for themselves and for their team. They set the tone and their form usually dictates how well India do as a batting unit.
Yes, in their heyday, this team would turnaround every friction, banter and abuse to its advantage. They were among the most respected and tough bunches going around. Yet, with reasons, firstly, with injuries, and now with age, the reasons for decline have not been arrived at. Some have pointed out to Fletcher’s incoming to this team coinciding with its dipping fortunes, but, the coach and the team swear by the culture and insist that nothing has changed.
The reason for India’s declining fortunes is directly proportional to its waning batting performances. India’s planning in the Tests has not been as prudent as it has been in the one-dayers. It took a hard stand to leave out the likes of Laxman, Dravid and Ganguly and groom youngsters and reaped benefits. A similar attempt in Tests has never materialized.
India goes into Perth with little confidence and/or collective form. A green pitch might guarantee 20 wickets for both sides. There in lies India’s best chance. The chasm between the sides has been Australia’s bowling. India’s bowling has been inconsistent and seems to rise and fall with Zaheer’s mood and health. Should the wicket encourage a three day Test, the result will hinge on a crucial 70 here or there, and, right now, that seems to be the best the Indian middle-order seems to be able to produce.
Over the next few days, this Indian team will not just fight the Fremantle Doctor and the Aussies for the series, but for their immediate future. While the right thing would be to blood a couple of youngsters, it is difficult to imagine this team management opting for that. For long, consistency in its team selection counted among its strengths, now, it might have come back to haunt them.
Australia go in as favourites, but the pitch might give India a chance to pull one back.
You can read preview from the Australian camp here.