India must learn to get tail out - Dhoni
After India's 122-run loss at the MCG, India's third first-Test loss on their last four tours, MS Dhoni said it was the batting that let the side down. The team, he said, also need to come up with ways to run through the opposition's lower order.
"We thought with a 230-odd runs [overnight] lead, if we could get them for 240 or 250, that's a very gettable score," Dhoni said. "But I felt 290-odd was also a score we should have achieved. The wicket was good, it was not like there was too much wear and tear on the wicket. I think the batting line-up flopped in both the innings.
"First innings, we got off to a decent start. We had a kind of a partnership going, after that we needed to capitalise on it. We were not really able to do that, because of which we were close to 50 runs short. In the second innings, wickets kept falling at regular intervals, which meant getting close to 300-odd runs was more and more difficult. Just that we need to get consistent with our batting."
The Indian batsmen began this year in overcast Cape Town, facing dream spell after dream spell from Dale Steyn who was ably supported by Morne Morkel. Led by Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, they fought the conditions and the bowling, and managed a draw. That, sadly, was the high point of their Test cricket this year. Since then they have played 16 innings away from home, and have crossed 300 only once. One of those innings was a declaration at 269 for 6, another a score of 94 for 3 in a chase. That leaves 13 innings when India haven't crossed 300, which is a minimum requisite to compete in most Tests.
For the England debacle the batsmen could be given some benefit of doubt because of the pressure a toothless bowling attack on them, but here India actually had an attack that matched Australia blow for blow, except for bowling the tail out, where you have to argue captaincy played a big part too. Dhoni agreed about the batsmen's flaws, but chose to give credit to the Australian bowlers too.
"There are a lot of things that could have happened [differently with the batting]," Dhoni said. "But at the same time you need to give credit to the opposition bowlers because of the line and lengths they bowled. A lot of the batsmen who got out, the delivery was close to the off stump. Some of them came in, some of them just held their line. They bowled really well and they pushed the batsmen to play most of the deliveries.
"The batsmen had to guess if it [the ball] was coming in or going out. Consistently they bowled well. And session after session, they bowled in the same areas. At some point of time you may commit an error. Maybe that's what happened in this game."
Dhoni credited the Indian bowling, too, which in turn meant the batsmen needed to clean up their act even more urgently. "The bowlers did their job in this Test," he said. "We didn't start off really well in the first innings, but in between we got quick wickets. And we were able to put pressure on the opposition. In the second, when it came to bowling, we started off really well. Overall the bowling department did the job. Just that we need to put runs on board."
However, they needed to find a way to run through the tail as well, he said. "It [Australia's lower-order contribution] didn't deflate us," he said. "It's something we need to keep an eye on. Even in the first innings their lower order put decent runs on the board. In games like these, both the innings together, if the amount of runs goes to 90 or 100 for the tail, it's a big amount of runs to chase. We need to come up with ways to get the tailenders out."
The defeat at the MCG, and the England debacle, leaves India with a mixed year. "It was a good year for us as a team," Dhoni said. "At the same time there were phases we didn't do really well, the England series being one of the patches where we didn't win a single game. The World Cup, being one of the most treasured things, gave us immense pleasure to win it, but we weren't as consistent as were last year. That's something that does happen in cricket. Overall it's a good year, that's what I would say. If we had performed better in England, it would have been a perfect year. It doesn't always go that way."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo