Cricket

Indians lacked decisive footwork

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Leaving aside the emotions of the moment, it would have made a huge difference for India to have gone into the second Test at the Gabba 0-0 than 1-0 down.

At the end of the day, the nature of the result matters.

When a victory, despite a brave effort, cannot be achieved, a draw would have been a fair verdict. That India lost eight wickets in the session after tea on day five was very disappointing. Much of the Indian chase might have been heroic but it still was a tame capitulation towards the end.

Stand-in captain Virat Kohli pulled off a sensational innings, Murali Vijay, technically well-equipped, fought hard but where were the contributions from the others?

Let’s get the fact straight. The fifth day surface at the Adelaide Oval was no mine-field. It had a rough, a few footmarks but at no stage was unplayable.

Nathan Lyon got a few deliveries to turn and bounce sharply but the Indian batsmen, save Kohli and Vijay, brought up on the sub-continental tracks, should have been able to cope with them better.

Apart from two deliveries — Ajinkya Rahane received one that rose from a length in the first innings and Kohli, playing back, survived a grubber with an element of luck on the final day — the other balls in the Test could have been negotiated had the batsmen displayed the technique and the resolve.

But then, the Indian batsmen have made it a habit of creating spin bowling match-winners for other teams; whether non-specialist off-spinner Moeen Ali for England or the improving Lyon for Australia.

If you come to think of it, India might not come across a better track than the one in Adelaide — very sub-continental in nature — to seal a win.

The side chose the wrong spinner for the Test — Karn Sharma was a disappointment — and then succumbed to Lyon’s spin when it mattered most.

Hard and bouncy

The surface for the second Test at the Gabba is bound to be hard and bouncy and the rain and cloud-cover forecast before and during the Test might make things harder for the Indian batsmen.

The heart of the matter is that the present Indian international batsmen hardly play adequate domestic cricket and are becoming increasingly vulnerable to spin.

The deliveries ‘above the eye-line’ that dipped — there were so many of them bowled by Lyon — demanded decisive footwork. Kohli displayed it, often going back, gauging the extent of turn and playing the ball late. Stepping forward judiciously — not a bad option since DRS is not in use in this series — or using the depth of the crease to shorten the length are much better options that prodding forward tentatively like Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma did or padding up.

Some of the past masters of spin in the Indian line-up would, if the surface demanded, move forward without committing themselves and then play the ball late. Once the batsman picks the length and the extent of spin on the ball, he has the option of shifting his weight back if there is a need.

In fact, there was an exceptional example of batsmanship against quality spin by Australia’s Damien Martyn — he was facing off with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh — in the Chennai Test of 2004.

On a surface where Kumble inflicted considerable damage on day one, Martyn batted with wonderful poise and intelligence on the fourth day. The Aussie took an off-stump guard, played back and back, travelling deep into his crease and met the ball late. This forced the Indian spinners to change their length, bowl fuller, and the Aussie cashed in. It was as much a battle of the mind as skill.

On the decisive Saturday here, India desperately missed skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who is an exceptional player of off-spin. It was he who dismantled the threatening Lyon in the Chennai Test of 2013.

The less said about the contribution of the Indian lower-order in the Test the better. R. Ashwin would have been valuable down the order for India.

The fact of the matter is several modern-day India cricketers, with a few exceptions, find it hard to survive when the conditions become even slightly demanding for batting.

Not many of them understand the importance of playing for a draw — with a tight defensive technique — when the chances of a win diminish. Do they, actually, comprehend those methods?

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 4:10:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/indias-tour-of-australia-australiaindia-test-series/article6691538.ece

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