MCG Test was wrapped up by the hosts in four days. Full credit to their pace attack for putting their hands up and delivering when needed. Frankly, the Indian trio of pace bowlers also delivered, considering that they dismissed the team batting first for 333 and later for 240. It was the lack of application from some Indian batsmen, sort of the one shown by two most veteran from the hosts unit when they were stuttering at 4/27 in the second essay, that made the difference between the winner and loser of the game.
It was not an entire batting failure from the visitors like, we have seen in some of the recent away series openers. They actually were in the driver’s seat by the end of day two, so I wouldn’t necessarily buy into any theory that hints at any intimidation from the hosts attack. As I said earlier, it was the lack of application from some of them, noticeably from the Captain Dhoni, Opener Gambhir, Senior Batsman Laxman, and relatively fresh Kohli. Dhoni has been battling the form issue in away games for quite some time and if the natural hitting is going to get him out of the rut, so be it. I actually wouldn’t even mind him batting at #5 for an innings just to get that achieved as he would be batting freely. With Laxman it could be slowing of reflexes or temporary lack of form, but going by how he played at Brabados, just a few months ago, I believe he has a few good innings left in him.
This leaves us Gambhir and Kohli. Both have been shining stars in ODIs and handled pressure well with tremendous temperament. In tests, Kohli is yet to make a mark in his short 7-test career, while Gambhir has been marvelous at sub-continent conditions, but has just one innings of significance (New Zealand 2009) outside of subcontinent in 10 tests. Gambhir’s issue is more technical. He’s never been technically correct batsman for a test opener, not a purist and also doesn’t bear the hand-eye coordination of his partner Viru. Even though his flawed technique still works on relatively slower sub continental wickets with not so much bounce, it does get exposed to a certain extent on bouncy and fast tracks in South-Africa, Australia, and Swinging conditions in England. Kohli’s issue is similar as he is circumspect to short deliveries. Both have shown temperaments in ODIs to fight out the situations and hang-in there, however, in tests the bowlers keep coming back at you and especially bowl a nagging length to test your patience.
One possible solution for team India could be Rahane at #2, as he is more purist and technically sound opener and Rohit at #6 as he is more compact and currently in tremendous form thus high on confidence. However, knowing captain Mahi, he wouldn’t give up on Kohli Just as yet and Gambhir’s crucial knocks in several Tests and ODIs would weigh in to keep him in. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Rohit has to wait beyond SCG for his test debut. Dhoni also, needs to re-asses some of his strategies as the leader, especially on how to go for a kill in a test once you have opponents by the throat.
The bowling department has delivered overall, however, there is always room for improvement. Ishant can use a bit more accuracy and loads of more luck. Yadav should bowl more like what he did in the second innings and not get carried away with short stuff like in the first. ZAK needs to ramp up a bit more speed or prolong his spells, should be able to bowl more spells if he’s going to cut down on pace. Ashwin should keep things a bit more tighter, since he’s not going to get more turn on the wickets that have grass on it.
SCG has usually been a better ground for the visitors, especially Sachin and VVS, however we can’t just rely on the two. Even if these two score like always, we need other five to contribute significantly. The first innings would be crucial and the more advantage you can drive home in the first essay the better chances you have of winning the game. Of course the eyes will be on that unconquered-n-much-awaited landmark, and hopefully Sachin gets it on the ground where he has three un-dismissed tons and an average of 221 in four tests. The hosts would be keen on extending the lead to 2-0. It will be an exciting battle to watch, let’s see which team comes out with more drive to win.
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav