India wait for a declaration, again
That bad old Indian feeling of waiting for the declaration is back. In fact it never went away, even when the team was doing well and rising towards No. 1 or defending that ranking. It happened against South Africa in Nagpur, against New Zealand in Napier, against Sri Lanka in Galle, against South Africa in Centurion and against England in all four Tests. More than any other team, India come out looking bad - it is a matter of relative speaking, really, because teams don't come out looking good after such days.
It is a difficult time to be in the field when your batting has failed, and the opposition can bat freely because of the meagreness of your total. At some point or the other, every team has to face these situations in Test cricket. With modern scoring rates, you tend to come out having conceded close to 350 runs on an average. Some teams deal with these days better than others. India isn't one of those teams. They don't do this well; they have never done this well.
They have five fielders who aren't particularly agile. Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Ishant Sharma and MS Dhoni are about the only fielders you want on the field in such situations. Ishant is the surprise inclusion there, but whatever results and despite not being a natural athlete, he is one man who always wants the ball to come to him, the one man always ready to charge in. India aren't going to ever behave like New Zealand and South Africa do in such circumstances, with men diving all over the place, and making it tough for the opposition to get quick runs. This is a handicap India have worked around for some time now, but it becomes exaggerated when waiting for a declaration. And this really is the best possible XI they can field right now, in that you can't think of a more agile man who can replace the other five who are slow in the field.
The India bowlers aren't really good control bowlers, except when it's spinners at home or reverse-swing at home, when they can choke things up even when the side is down. And they have come back from such situations, but those cases are fast getting consigned to the distant past. The inconsistent bowling away from home also translates into their captain spreading the fields sooner than he should. You cannot fault the effort of the bowlers, as R Ashwin kept repeating at the post-day press conference, but India are quicker than others to throw the concept of slowing runs down through wickets to the wind, which is a combination of an inconsistent attack and captaincy.
It is a matter of finer details if you want to see when teams go on the defensive on such days, but it is an important detail. Ashwin came on to bowl at 3 for 99, with Australia still 92 behind and the fourth-wicket partnership reading 62. He began with a deep point and a deep midwicket. Ashwin said he did so because there were few runs to play with, and he didn't want to give away boundaries before he settled down to a proper line and length. That says a lot about the mindset of the side.
"What else do you do with 190 in the pocket?" Ashwin said. "You'll have to save every run possible. Supposing you get two or three wickets later on, and someone is having a good spell, we have those runs to play with later. That has got to be the only idea. It's common sense. Nothing else."
All said and done, today was hardly surprising or sinful. If something on a cricket field is serious enough to be termed a sin, it was committed yesterday, when the famed batting line-up was bowled out for 191 after choosing to bat first. And India in the field - not the bowling unit exclusively, but the team overall - are quicker than others to step back and hope the batsmen bail them out in the second dig. And wait for the declaration.
That's what India did today. The declaration will eventually arrive sometime tomorrow. Bowling Australia out now will not be much better either. Some time tomorrow, the behemoth will be asked to start rolling. If it doesn't, it will never win a series in Australia.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo