Australia v India, 1st Test, MCG, 4th day December 29, 2011

India's batting woes abroad continue

The fact that India were rolled over twice by Australia's second-choice pace attack suggests the failures in England were not an aberration but confirmation of a trend

For the 71 minutes that Sachin Tendulkar was at the crease this afternoon it felt like India had gone back to the dark ages: the master on a plain of his own, and the rest doing poor impersonations of Test batsmen. Australia looked like they were bowling with their great men again. The ball was wobbling a bit in the air, jagging off the seam, and the wicketkeeper was gathering most deliveries with his gloves pointing towards the sky. It felt very 1999, or 1992.

And then it got even worse for India. Tendulkar attempted a cover drive and sliced the ball to gully. Including their first-innings collapse, India had lost 14 wickets for 132 runs. They were up against an Australian attack with a combined match experience of 53 Tests and a total wicket-tally of less than 200. One of their new-ball bowlers was playing his third Test, his partner was coming back from injury, and two of the three fast bowlers might not have been playing the Test had Ryan Harris and Pat Cummins been available for selection.

So then, there was the truth. The world's most prolific, most experienced and most feted batting line-up had been rolled over twice by Australia's second-choice pace attack. They may not be second-choice bowlers for much longer, though, for they were marvellous. Only the sight of the tailenders got them to aim at the throat; otherwise, their devotion to the fundamentals of bowling was magnificently steadfast.

Throughout the Test, they kept their pace up and bowled excellent lines, but the most remarkable aspect of their bowling was the length they maintained. They had heeded the advice of their bowling coach Craig McDermott - who, incredible as it may sound, bowled to Tendulkar in 1992 - to keep the ball up.

It is one of the simplest principles of quick bowling. The full ball creates the opportunity for three of the most common forms of dismissal: caught, bowled and leg before. The word hostility is attached to the short ball but, though they bowled full, there was no let up in aggression from the Australia bowlers in this Test. It was just that they targeted the stumps more than the body. It resonated in the scorecard: India batsmen were bowled seven times, and, if you include the time he was bowled off a Peter Siddle no-ball, Rahul Dravid alone was bowled three times.

James Pattinson was named Man of the Match but it must have been a marginal selection: there was not a lot to choose between all three. Ben Hilfenhaus got seven wickets, as many as he had managed the whole summer last year, and Siddle and Pattinson got six each. Hilfenhaus has returned with an extra yard of pace, and his swing intact. Pattinson has it all: pace, swing and seam. But it is Siddle who looks the most improved bowler.

As in the case of England's Stuart Broad, Siddle is no longer the enforcer charged with bowling the heavy ball. His menace now comes from bowling full and fast, and he has added a touch of swing to his bowling. Tendulkar looked the best batsman in the match and Siddle dismissed him in both innings, once shaping the ball in and once moving it out. In both cases Tendulkar had been drawn in to the drive by the length.

Both teams came in to this series facing questions. Though they won, Australia have not found all the answers. Their top order remains a worry. Shaun Marsh failed twice, while Michael Clarke and David Warner had a start each but failed to press on. Michael Hussey, though, found his feet again, when it was most direly needed. The biggest positive was the sight of a familiar man steadying both innings. Ricky Ponting is unlikely to recapture the majesty of his youth, but in a bowlers' Test his half-centuries could easily have won him the Man-of-the-Match award. He can now go through the rest of the series without being hounded by calls for his head.

At the start of the Test, the big questions facing India pertained to their bowlers. There were fitness concerns about Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav and R Aswhin were both inexperienced. As they have done many times in the past - the summer's England tour was an exception - the bowlers exceeded expectations. However, alarmingly, it seems the poor batting performance in England was hardly an aberration.

In fact, it was merely confirmation of a pattern. Since they posted 364 in challenging conditions in Cape Town in the first Test of the year, only once have India managed to go past 300 in 16 innings away from home - and that includes six innings against West Indies. Neither of their openers has scored a hundred this year - in Gautam Gambhir's case the drought stretches back two years. Only two of their batsmen have managed to score a hundred away from home and only Dravid has managed more than one.

Some of the weaknesses in the Indian batting were glaringly apparent in Melbourne. Gambhir poked at balls he should have comfortably left alone and his long run of failures must now count as a serious worry. His uncertainty outside the off stump has always been noticeable, but the best feature of his game, his mental strength, seems to have deserted him. He now deals with the new ball with jabs and prods, and while he may get away with a few on low pitches in India, in Australia the edges are certain to carry to the cordon.

There is nothing unusual about Virender Sehwag collaborating in his own dismissals, and he is certain to go flashing at the first hint of width in Sydney. But that he averages 29.53 this year, and came in to this series with scores of 13, 11, 0, 0, 8 and 33 in away matches points to a batsman without the security of runs. His 67 in the first innings here featured some blazing shots, but also two clear chances and a near miss.

It has been three years since Sourav Ganguly vacated the No. 6 spot amid clamour for young blood, but that position is far from taken. Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina have both been tried and abandoned, and Virat Kohli finds himself facing the heat now. He was unsettled by the short ball in the West Indies, and found his defensive technique exposed in the both the innings at the MCG. He is likely to keep his place for the next Test, but only just.

For the first time since 1977, India started this tour with genuine prospects of winning their first-ever Test series in Australia. The fourth day began with the rare opportunity of starting an away series with a win. In the first session, they enacted a familiar routine by failing to knock over the tailenders. The last two Australian wickets extended the target by 74 runs to ensure India began the chase as underdogs. But the most damning fact of the day was that with 30 runs, Ashwin was the second-highest scorer for India in their second innings.

From here it would take a remarkable batting turnaround for India to keep the series alive. The New Year could not come any sooner.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ravi on December 31, 2011, 16:38 GMT

    Most of our top order batsmen not excluding the great master are riding on past glories... persisting with them kills the career of many promising batsmen. Drop Gambir, Sehwag, Sachin, Laxman and bring in new blood. Look at how the new crop of batsmen and bowlers are doing... Kohli, Ashwin, Umesh ....

  • Abraham on December 31, 2011, 6:59 GMT

    Our batting has always been brittle on foreign pitches. I cringe when I read the " vaunted Indian Batting Line up" referred to by journalists. Except at home, we have always performed poorly abroad (except Gavaskar, Tendulkar & Dravid).

    But nothing has ever been done to correct this problem.The BCCI is responsible for this sorry state of affairs. This is an organization run by Lalas & Banias - Until the day we have cricketers running this body, we will always face embarassing defeats abroad.

    We need to lay down wickets in India that will help our players learn the art of facing fast bowling. And we need to develop bowlers who can bowl consistantly at 140+ Kmph.

    Why have we never used the services of our great spinners like Prasanna, Bedi , Venkatraghavan to coach and train the younger generation ?

    There is no dearth of talent in our country, considering the passion that all Indians have for this beautiful game, all that is needed is proper guidance & management.

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2011, 6:11 GMT

    If one man's weakness cannot be found even after 21 years, it should be a madness for new generation bowlers. But how you succeed against the planning is important. Virat kohli or rohit sharma may be modified according to their weakness to get rid of them. But the trio wont be changed. That is the fate we all facing now. Hope they may conceal their weakness atleast one test on oz soil.

  • KISH on December 31, 2011, 5:35 GMT

    On the first look everybody, including me, thought it is India's batting which has failed. However, when I look closely I see a different picture. The fact is, Umesh Yadav, eventhough he got many wickets in the match, he got his wickets through bad shots from the Aussies than him bowling peaches. Ishant Sharma did bowl with pace and produced some(a few) great deliveries. His height is an asset and that makes the opposition batsmen uncomfortable. But, he too did not produce great deliveries consistently. Zaheer Khan, being the most experienced, has bowled magnificiently for unfair rewards. But, the reason for him only getting a very few wickets is that he was bowling at 125- 134 kph. In that pace, international batsmen are expected to play 8 out of 10 balls safely. Also, the reason why tail-enders are able to bat well was because there was not enough spice in the bowling to trouble someone who doesn't have any pressure to make a big score. Please note, no Indian bowler got a fivefer.

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2011, 3:04 GMT

    it is the IPL tht ruined indian test cricket...yes it has helped da limited overs cricket where it needs flashy hard hitting players... take a count how many players have been selected into indian test side based on IPL performances and upto some extend limited overs....vijay,kohli,raina,yuvi.... vijay atleast had more than 10 matches..utter failiure,....yuvi given enof chances...raina not a test material at all...kohli...wenevr gets out tries to blame it on the umpire...actually compare this people wth players with test match attitude...always puts dere heads down...grind da bowlers kinda attitude... badrinath- 2 tests pujara - 3 tests mukund - 5 tests..provided da OK batsman of da england tour , jaffer-was sacked based on one tournament see all this negleted players never make the buzz in first class yes...but ya ranji trophy is no way near to test carrer..but they have the basic understanding of test cricket...

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2011, 1:34 GMT

    those who are speaking ill of indian batsmen should realize that the indian bowling is even more pathetic! As for india's batsmen,well they are highly overrated flat pitch bullies and its been proven just now!

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2011, 1:24 GMT

    @CricIndia 2008 India are world chanpions, but TEST CRICKET is the REAL DEAL. I hope you are not saying that because India lost to Australia in the first test. However, I'm saying that India has a better chance winning at Sydney, but, if they don't, they will lose the series 3-1, or worst, 4-0.

  • cric on December 31, 2011, 1:07 GMT

    Aussies will get a mauling in teh remaining tests. Soemhow limped, scrapped to a freak gifted away win. Not any more...

  • Desmond on December 30, 2011, 21:55 GMT

    Difference between the two teams is the famed batting of India. Sehwag is a gamble - he may or may not play. If he plays the way he knows best, India has good chance of winning. He played in the first innings. Dravid also contributed in the first innings. Sachin was good. Ashwin was OK. But, the main problem was the other opener (Gambhir), and the middle order consisting of Laxman, Kohli & Dhoni. If they would have contributed, 123 more runs in total, India would have won. Indian tailenders also don't know how to survive & irritate the opposition bowlers. From the three fast bowlers only Sharma can bat and irritate the opposition. The other two should hang there without giving away their wicket, especially, in the company of the first 7/8 batsmen. Oz bowlers bowled a good line & length just outside off stump; always on target. Indian bowlers should improve a bit by not bowling short balls. Short pitched deliveries are good if well directed else cardinal sin in Oz. Yorkers after shortb?

  • Martin on December 30, 2011, 20:33 GMT

    Judging by the contributions here it looks as though India fans have finally woken up and can smell the Java....Mmm! What a lovely coffee roast!

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