There are some sentences you imagine you will never need to type.

“Government bans income tax” is just one instance. “Wayne Rooney’s lecture on atomic physics received with acclaim” might be another. I thought “Aussies let down by sloppy fielding” would be a third never to be written sentence until I saw some of the worst fielding ever at the start of the third day of the second Test in Hyderabad.

I was wrong. In a half-a-dozen overs I saw the ball carelessly slipped out of an outfielder’s hands, the ball head for the boundary through another fielder’s legs — what the footballers call a nutmeg — and a complete snatched miss by a fielder using both hands. Wicketkeeper and bowler were chasing shadows as they tried to collect wild returns from the boundary.

Poor fielding

I have rarely seen worse fielding from any side and I have been watching the Australians’ usually efficient, electric and accurate hunting, gathering and immaculate returns since 1948.

There have been one or two youngsters who have had to have the hard word about their fielding — Shane Warne began as a slouch — but like Warne they have gone away, practised hard and returned to the side to field with distinction.

Long, long ago Bill Johnston was a 6ft 2in clumsy left-arm fast bowler who had to be hidden.

Ernie Toshack, a left-arm medium pace bowler, was not a great fielder but both compensated for their failures with a throwing arm that rocketed the ball back to the wicket-keeper.

So if you want to find the basic cause of the Australians’ failure in this series it is that their out-cricket is far from the enthusiastic performance of the Indian side — and that is another sentence I never expected to write.

Once India was a by-word for poor fielding. No longer.

They chase down the ball in packs — I credit Duncan Fletcher for that improvement — and when with 100 runs to spare Harbhajan Singh threw himself at the ball to turn a four into a three the whole team applauded him.

So at last the word has got through to the Indian side that fielding — and not just catches — wins matches but I am afraid that it is a neglected art among the Aussies.

Of course the Indians had a reason to try hard. They were one win ahead and heading for a second. Australia had batted appallingly on day one — with the honourable exception of Michael Clarke who despite his second innings failure cannot stop making runs and is probably top of the world rankings at the moment.

Vijay and Pujara had shown how to deal with that tricky wicket and provided the big stand that gave India a first innings lead just too daunting to surpass.

Spinning tracks

Can the Aussies come back after such a humiliation? I think not. The margin is too wide, they are ill-equipped to deal with the spinning tracks that we must expect for the rest of the series — Mohali apart – and the Australian batsmen all left the crease on that final eight-wicket session shaking their heads.

That is a sign not of defeat with determination to make a better fist of it next time but of an understanding that it is a beaten side, heading home for the biggest barrage of criticism since it lost to England in 1981 — “like ice cream melting in the sun” said one writer.

It has not just lost this series but its will to win; and after watching it play for more than half a century that is another sentence I thought I would never have to write.


Sehwag pays the priceMarch 7, 2013

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