Until fielding and fitness are given more credence, the Indians cannot be successful, writes Greg Chappell
A Test series that should have been the cricket equivalent of the best slow-cooked Hyderabadi or Lucknowi fine-dining meal eventually resembled something from a questionable fast-food outlet. The after taste, for India at least, will linger for a while.
There is no doubt that Australia outplayed India throughout the series but India was its own worst enemy.
Before the series there appeared to be very little between the two teams but, once they walked out onto the MCG, it was obvious that Australia was the team prepared to do the hard work necessary to win.
Successful teams are just that, a team. They bat and bowl in partnerships and they support their bowlers with a committed fielding effort that leverages the bowling performance.
Neil Harvey said some years ago that he learnt more about a cricketer from watching him in the field. His belief was that if a fielder could not, or did not, read the play in the field he wouldn't do it with the bat or ball in his hand.
I agree. For me, the effort in the field is the barometer by which great teams are judged.
Every great Australian team that I have seen has been a great fielding team. The Australian system and selection process demands it.
The Australian attack of Pattinson, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Starc, Harris and Lyon received whole-hearted support from its fielders. The energy displayed by the Australians from the first ball to the last in each Test was at the level required of great teams. Not every catch was taken but most of them were and a few run-outs were manufactured by hustle and pressure in the field.
When one bats against a side that makes this commitment in the field one is aware of it and, if it is sustained, it can make the difference between the teams.
If the batting teams are made to feel that runs are going to be hard to come by they are forced to take greater risks to score their runs. Under this pressure the batsman is bound to make a mistake which makes the bowler's job easier.
I know. I was on the receiving end of it for many series against Clive Lloyd's great West Indian teams. The unrelenting pressure that this applies is worth quite a few wickets over a series.
A batting team soon learns that, if the opposition fielding effort is half-hearted, all they have to do is get through a few overs and the effort will drop away altogether. Once that happens the bowlers are, literally, all by themselves.
In this situation the team is relying on the bowler to bowl ‘magic' balls to take wickets. That can happen occasionally but it is hard to get 20 wickets in a game this way; as India found out.
It is no coincidence that successful Indian teams of the past fielded well. The winning teams of the 70's had fielders of the calibre of Solkar, Pataudi, Patel, Abid Ali, Venkat and Wadekar. It is something that has to be demanded of current and future cricketers in India.
Australia also ran much better between wickets than India. It was much more difficult for the Indian bowlers to build pressure on the Australian batsmen because they could get off strike at will.
One thing you should learn early as a batsman in Test cricket is that the best place to be when the batting is tough is at the non-striker's end. Quick singles can be your saviour in this situation.
If the ball is swinging, seaming or spinning awkwardly, the last thing that you want to have to do is face a lot of balls in succession against the best bowlers. This is where you need the understanding and support of your partner. You both need to know that the other is going to help you out to get off strike regularly with quick singles.
Clarke and Ponting did this very well in each of their series-defining partnerships. The Indians did not do it well.
When the Australian attack was bowling well it was able to pin the Indian batsmen down for extended periods which inevitably led to a wicket falling.
The Hilfenhaus and Siddle spell in Melbourne was one such period when this was evident. First Dravid, then Tendulkar, departed on the same score on the back of some sustained bowling and fielding-backed pressure. Had the two senior players been able to get a bigger partnership, it could have changed the series.
The Indian team will never have sustained success until fielding, fitness and athleticism are given more credence than sublime talent alone. Talent will get you to the top but character, discipline and hard work will keep you there.
Australia led the way in these areas in this series and thoroughly deserved their win.
India needs to digest the message and make a commitment to a bigger effort in the field; or winning in unfamiliar conditions will continue to elude them.
Keywords: India's tour of Australia