India in Australia 2011-12 December 31, 2011

India need to rethink strategy against tail

Australia's last four wickets outscored India's by 79 runs over both innings at the MCG. In a series that could be decided by lower-order contributions, MS Dhoni may need to change his defensive tactics

India began and ended the year similarly. At Newlands, it was Mark Boucher and an injured Jacques Kallis who were allowed to get away when India were on top. At the MCG, it was the Australian lower order. At Newlands the India batsmen were in better form, and came out with a draw when they could have won. At the MCG the batsmen struggled, and India lost when they could have won.

At the heart of both those disappointments was how India spread the field as soon as they saw the lower order. Not a gradual phasing out of attack, no. Not reacting to a boundary or two. MS Dhoni has been going on the defensive as soon as the lower-order players come out to bat. At Newlands, Kallis, batting at No. 5 and battling the pain of a side strain, walked out to a long-on in place, and there was a deep point the moment he reverse-swept a four. On the first day in Melbourne, Brad Haddin came out to face a hat-trick ball at 5 for 205. That soon become 6 for 214, when Ed Cowan was dismissed, but in the next over Dhoni had long-on, deep midwicket and fine leg for Haddin.

Dhoni's defence for the welcome given to Haddin says all you need to know. "You have to see who was bowling," he said [it was R Ashwin who was bowling]. "Haddin is a good player of spin. We were bowling first, which meant there were no rough patches to play with. It could have been easy pickings. What we wanted to do was see if he is good enough and takes a single every delivery. [In that case] we look to put pressure on the other batsmen or from the other end from which the fast bowlers were bowling. It's a strategy that goes your way or doesn't go your way. You have to back yourself."

But Ashwin had been looking to get wickets when it was 3 for 205, and Michael Clarke and Cowan were at the crease. Why suddenly stop trying to get one of the batsmen out? Ashwin was not easy pickings for Clarke, how did he suddenly become easy pickings for Haddin? The result is no surprise. Australia's last four wickets added a total of 211 runs over the two innings. India's managed 132, 88 of those coming in the second innings when the match was already lost and the tail could swing the bat without any pressure.

This is - at least it seemed to be for the first three days - a series between evenly matched sides. Runs scored by lower orders could decide the outcome. The last two series that India have won against Australia both featured contributions from the lower order. In 2008-09, it was Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh's 80-run partnership that helped India draw the first Test, which proved to be a massive turning point in the series. In 2010-11, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha hung around with VVS Laxman to win India the Mohali Test. It is no coincidence that when the Australian lower order beats India's by 79 runs, India wind up losing the Test by 122.

At the end of the game, Dhoni said his side needed to come up with a "formula" to get tailenders out. To lose the existing formula might be a start. The current formula might have worked for Dhoni on slower tracks, on smaller fields where singles are easy to defend, but such passivity against the tail is bound to hurt you at some time.

Ian Chappell said the captain, more than the bowlers, had to be blamed for this. There is merit to what Chappell says. The same bowlers who have been trying to get a wicket every ball are now expected to change their game-plan to restricting boundaries for one batsman and then desperately trying to take a wicket with the last one or two deliveries of the over. Dhoni is a captain who usually knows what moments to seize; in Melbourne he looked two of them in the eye and let them pass.

On the other hand, Clarke, fresher to the job, was a little more intuitive when it came to the Indian tail. After the match he defended Dhoni's tactics, and said that he would have done the same; but actually he did not. He did not fight his own team's momentum, and ran through the Indian Nos. 7, 8 and 9. Dhoni, unlike Haddin, was attacked in the first innings. It was only when Ashwin got into a partnership with the No. 11 that the fields went back, and that too after the partnership had begun developing.

Clarke's empathising with Dhoni says a lot about modern cricket: fearless tails, heavy bats and thick edges put the fear of a counterattack in the fielding captain's mind. "I did the same for Ashwin in the first innings," Clarke said. "I did the same for Dhoni on the fourth day [after Dhoni had hit a six and a couple] because the runs from the tail are important for any team, especially when the pitch is a bit bowler-friendly. As a team, every single run you get is crucial. I can see why Dhoni did it. Probably for the same reasons I did it; because you want to protect every single run."

Be that as it may, Dhoni realises the runs scored by the Australian lower order hurt India. He knows if he had knocked over the tail quickly India could have been chasing something around 230, and not 292. But he fears that had he tried to run through the tail, one or more of the batsmen could have taken advantage of close fields and scored more than they eventually did. Having put it down as one of the reasons for the defeat, Dhoni will at least revisit the strategy against lower orders. We all know it can do with a rethink.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • narsimha on January 3, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    5WOMBATS i cant understand what do you mean by ;real cricketing world but ,when more than billion supports that automatically becomes special ,as majoritarian opinion matters but that doesnt mean wiith this huge following w ought to convince all that we are best in the business , not at all , at present our team is worse in over seas & indians on this site criticising our team ,we are niether gloathing our past no-1 tag nor living on few out side victries now we came to the terms & what ever happening that may be blessing in disguise ,but one thing for sure your teamwill denitly strugle in sub continent as we have seen enough ofyour greats like straus, petersons, andersons, broads , bresnans in this part of world ,lets wait & see the curtainraiser at uae on 17th.

  • Martin on January 2, 2012, 21:54 GMT

    @g.narsimha on (January 02 2012, 16:22 PM GMT). Nobody in the real world of cricket cares much about what you think of as being the "special" features of india cricket. "Marketing of cricket"... "cricketing hub"... "no team barring Steve Waugh"... blah, blah, blah. Whatever. india are not special. They are just another cricketing country just like every one else. No cricket follower from any other country in the world would ever have the nerve to say; "you are not number one until you beat us at home". That is a position reserved strictly for india fans. Please publish.

  • narsimha on January 2, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    cont.......our no 1 tag was history , you asked what is special in india , yes india is very special in the contest of huge cricket crazy fan following , marketing of cricket ,present days cricketing hub & most importantly no team baring stive waughs all waether team won any thing in india in recent past particularly your team was proved to be worse than our team which is presently struggling in overseas,with out victiries in either form of game in decades .

  • RAJARAMAN on January 2, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    Dinesh kartik was the best keeper in india 5 years ago .. not anymore .. he is unfit to keep for TN leave alone India ... he failed to sieze the chance in SL when Dhoni opted to rest ... both he and parthiv have been tried enough and abandoned ... name anyone else capable of replacing Dhoni .. and then we can drop him from tests ... by the way .. is dhoni's record that poor to warrant an axe ... however .. if the bad patch of dhoni extends a longer period .. it might be worth trying a new hand .. but not now ... thank you

  • Martin on January 2, 2012, 11:19 GMT

    @Miles Davis on (January 02 2012, 01:36 AM GMT) you state; "Keep in mind last summer, England were bungled out for 100 odd in the first innings of the first test". Which First Test are you referring to? In the First Test in 2011 against Sri Lanka England in their First Test first Innings scored 496/5dec and in the First Test in 2011 against india England in their first Innings scored 474/8dec. This is factual information which is easy to look up on cricinfo. BTW your analysis of Englands performance in Australia 2010/11 is wholly mistaken as well; Australia batted first on THREE occasions. Australia were not facing 500+ scores as they walked out to bat on the morning of the first day. The England bowlers were all over Australia in the last Ashes, just as they were all over india in Summer 2011. Please publish.

  • Amol on January 2, 2012, 5:46 GMT

    Jackjak: ...And what's so one-sided about mentioning stats about Sachin **as they are** ?

  • Amol on January 2, 2012, 5:45 GMT

    JackJak: If u check again, I was defending only Sachin, NOT the whole IND team. I'm NEVER said IND is the greatest team ever (though it has the potential to be ...IF AND ONLY IF they apply themselves mentally in the field). In fact I never mentioned anything related to QUALITIES OF IND TEAM as a whole. This test they lost was not because of insufficient physical skills but due to lack of mental strength. Anyway, the last time IND toured ENG before 2011, IND won the series (2007). doesn't it count or do we have to go back to 1986 ? When was the last time ENG beat IND **in** IND ? If bowlers become meaningless on IND pitches why does Ponting average only in pathetic 20s on them? And if it's so hard to win on IND pitches for other teams, does not it say something good about IND bowlers in spite of the adverse conditions to get to bowl. Also does not it DE-value the wickets that ENG, AUS, SA bowlers (not counting Steyn) get regularly on their ball-friendly pitches ? And...

  • shantiratnam on January 2, 2012, 5:39 GMT

    Dhoni may be a great captain but with the great captain India has lost 5 tests in a row. I think Dhoni does not deserve a place in the teat if anyone is bothered by the teams poor performance. If you think the most popular players must play in the team then all Indian suppoters must accept the match results. If you want to win then you must pick players on merit. Dinesh Karthik is India's best wiket keeper batsman on current form! Dhoni silently puts his favourite players in the team too, if Dhoni is a great cricketer like all think then why was Viral Kholi in the team ahead of Rohit Sharma? Do you need a sceintist to say Rohit is a better batsman down the order and we all know Virat is good at No 03! Good luck. I know India will win the next test 200% sure but they will lose the next 2 for sure too. I support India against Aussie although I support Sri Lanka always

  • Randolph on January 2, 2012, 4:34 GMT

    @5wombats, you are begining to have as many excuses as the Indian fans you despise so much. Pot kettle mate!

  • Randolph on January 2, 2012, 4:26 GMT

    Pattinson is a better batsman than Sachin. Hilf better than Dravid and Lyon better than Laxman, on Australian pitches that is. Not that its hard to score on the featherbeds of India.

  • No featured comments at the moment.