Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day January 6, 2012

An embarrassing capitulation

India have returned to the dark ages of overseas tours, when the failures of their batsmen led to crushing defeats

It is a measure of India's misery in Australia that at one stage of their second innings in Sydney the only point of interest was whether they would register their first 300-plus score of the series. And once that was achieved, through a few I've-got-nothing-to-lose blows from Zaheer Khan, the target shifted to 329, the score Michael Clarke mounted all by himself. That was chased down comfortably too, with R Aswhin striking a few of his own, but the jury was still out about who won this contest: after all the Indians hadn't dismissed Clarke.

The real story of the day was 4 for 15. A familiar collapse that sent hurtling towards despair a day that promised a fightback, a salvation of dignity if not prevention of defeat. At the lunch that the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust hosted on the fourth day, the chairman of the trust had hoped, with Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman still at the crease, the match would be extended to the last day.

It is just as well that Cricket Australia doesn't budget for the fifth day in their final projections. In the end, those who had paid Friday's gate money might have been grateful that the last three Indian batsmen dragged the match to the last session. The Swamy Army, the group of Indian supporters whose numbers have grown remarkably since 2003, turned out to be wiser. A bulk of them simply didn't turn up.

Ishant Sharma hung around with Ashwin long enough to take the score past another significant landmark: 347, India's highest score in an away Test in the previous 12 months. And then, with a free-swinging hit that landed in the stands behind long-on, Ashwin took India past 364, their previous best in 18 away innings, registered in the last New Year Test in Cape Town. The last time they managed to reach 400 overseas turned out to be in an eerily similar Test to this one. Bowled out for 136 in the first innings, they conceded 620 to lose by an innings and 25 runs at Centurion in December 2010.

These numbers are useful only for one purpose: they are evidence of India's rediscovered wretchedness away from the subcontinent. The nucleus of this team still carries a group of remarkable cricketers who contributed massively to erase the painful memories of touring, and how it must hurt them to be part of this horror streak, which now seems interminable.

And for a proud bunch of players, nothing would sting more than this statistic: Not since 1968, not even in the hopeless era of the 1990s, which some in this ground have painful memories of, have India lost six away matches on a trot. Between 1959 and 1968 they had lost 17.

This must count as their most embarrassing loss in Australia for over a decade. The defeat at the MCG might have rankled for reasons that, with hindsight, would feel far more positive. The lament there was about an opportunity lost. In various stages of that match, India held positions from where victory could be contemplated. And play began on the fourth morning with all results apart from a draw still possible. At the SCG, apart from that burst when Zaheer Khan winkled out three left-hand, top-order batsmen, India were in a battle that got more uphill by the session.

It isn't unusual for teams to look a bit ragged when opposition batsmen pile up huge runs, but very few top teams can manage the look of utter desolation India acquire after a barren session. As at Centurion, Edgbaston and the Oval, every trace of competition went out of the Indians on the field once Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke set their stall.

Energy and inspiration can create opportunities even on unresponsive wickets. The Australian bowlers managed to get more out of a third-day wicket last evening by coaxing more effort out of their bodies. After Ben Hilfenhaus had bent one more through Rahul Dravid's defences, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle found a higher gear to make the ball hurry and zip. With better catching and a bit of luck, they could have had India four down last evening.

That India managed only one wicket for over 600 runs was largely due to some magnificent batting from Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. But it was also true that India were quick to abandon hope and wait for the mercy of a declaration. Apart from a brief period when Ponting was nearing his hundred, there seemed neither any purpose nor intent from the Indians on the field. Those in the deep hardly took a start, some didn't even pretend to put an appearance of a chase, and bowlers simply took the cue and went through the motions.

MS Dhoni remained the most energetic man on the field, sometimes chasing the ball to fine leg from his position as wicketkeeper instead of the man at square leg, but as a Test captain he remains guilty of letting himself be dictated to by the circumstances, rather than making something happen.

Dhoni has many exceptional qualities, and his composure in adversity remains his greatest strength, but flagging teams sometimes require a bit of fire and inspiration, and Dhoni has personified resignation. That he has many creaking and ageing bodies at his disposal doesn't make the job easier.

More than anything else, though, the batsmen have failed the team the most. This Test was lost on the first day, when India managed to get bowled out for 191 after choosing to bat. With hindsight it may seem the wrong choice, for the first two sessions were the friendliest for the bowlers. But it was the right choice in the circumstances: a trailing team must make the running, and there is no better way to set up a Test that posting a big score.

To a large degree the Indian batsmen have been caught unawares by the nature of pitches and the kind of bowling they have encountered. There was a quiet confidence among the senior batsmen that there would be no repeat of the serial disasters that befell them in England because the Australian surfaces - hard and true with minimal deviation - and nature of the Australian bowling - back of a length - have traditionally suited their style of batting, which often relies on hitting on the up and through the line.

But unlike on their previous two tours, the pitches this time have had a matting of grass and the Australian bowlers have bowled a yard fuller. These two factors combined to present the Indian batsmen the same difficulties they encountered in England. And so far, the results have been disturbingly similar for them.

Also, the score line reads exactly the same as it did at the same juncture in 2007-08. But four years ago, the Indian team carried to Perth a sense of injustice and anger. This time they will board the same flight in despair.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2012, 5:34 GMT

    Everything said was true to the core....But there are some more...Riding on a blind horse is never going to take you anywhere... You only can expect the unexpected to happen. Dhoni might have more potentials within him, but the fact is that, he has no control over the so called legends in his team, similarly it seems that, he has not shown any great concern over the failures of others too. He should be more aggressive even if the team loose. If all the cricketers who has established well in the team over the years expect the favorable ground conditions and want to face only the bowlers whom they know very well in the field in all the away tours, then they should not have boarded the flight. If they feel that their mind & body could not handle the pressure, they themselves could have withdrawn at some point of time. We Indians expect more from all legends, we don't expect them to win every match,but expect them to fight, to have no give-up attitude.

  • Mick on January 9, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    The absolutely scary thing should be for Indian fans that things are likely to get much worse. With no tours for two years, how will the new brigade who surely have to replace the big 3 in that time learn to play outside India? No doubt after a few home romps the fans will forget the reality but prepare for another crash. Also, SCG a grassy wicket?? There was A BIT there for the bowlers, nothing more. If it was so bad, why did India bat first?!?!? Classic excuses. You think SCG was bad, get ready for Perth. Nothing like the highway India were gifted in 2008.

  • Manoj on January 9, 2012, 4:42 GMT

    I read a lot about how the Indian team is only formidable on subcontinental pitches, and how that means that there is a need to make wholesale changes to the team. A better mode of inquiry may be to address whether there is a need to do so, as it appears that each team (with perhaps the exception of the most inept sides) tends to develop sides that most favor their conditions. So, when Australia dropped two tests in India recently, what did that mean? Should Australia now develop dustbowls? Because England suffered an ODI whitewash, should that mean that square turners should be the order of the day in England?

    I do very well wish that the Indian team would succeed in foreign conditions, being an Indian fan. But to suggest that Indian batsmen or bowlers only succeed in home conditions and to make that seem like it is somehow an inadequacy is to somehow question the nature of the modern cricket (i.e., covered pitches, suited to home advantages).

  • arun on January 9, 2012, 4:24 GMT

    Continued......Batsmen having difficulty in adjusting is not a big deal since they mostly get only one chance to make a mistake and then has to wait for the next innings. The bowlers on the other hand get 6 chances every over to cover their mistakes. Captaincy comes into play only when the team is fielding. That is where your mettle is shown. This series is being lost when India is fielding as Good oppurtunities are being lost on the field and bad field placements. This is all covered up in home series where the spinners are unplayable and everyone makes Dhoni a super captain, a complete no brainer. You have got to make things happen even with a mediocre bowling. Lets also not run down Tendulkar as he has made the maximum effort among the batsmen to atleast fight. Think out of the box : Let Dhoni be injured for a match and make Zaheer the captain. Anyway things could not go worse , might be a blessing in disguise. Make Seperate the captains for Test/One days

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2012, 4:09 GMT

    @ stormy16. Mate, I don't think that point holds. A country with such a large stock of players and such a huge cricket investment should never be short of talent. Further it is not just the pool of players that you need to rely on. The fact is that Indian players, in general, are physically no where near as fit as most of their opponents, especially Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand. Add to that their lack of discipline and their frequent lack of preparation in foreign conditions, and there is always going to be a chance that things will go pear shaped the way they have. Australia have won the first two tests based mostly on sheer hard work and discipline - batsmen have left balls and played themselves in, and the bowlers have "maintained" a probing line and length. India should learn from this, but it appears they hardly ever do.

  • arun on January 9, 2012, 3:59 GMT

    First of all remove Dhoni from Test captaincy. You cannot react to a situation in tests and expect things to happen. The opposite batmen are in no hurry to make things happen, fielding has to do that in a test. In One-days its the opposite. He seems to behaving, infact anybody will have, similar tactics for both. You need different captains with different mind sets. A Bowler would be a better captain since he always plots for the batsmen. Also its the easiest thing for Srikanth/Dhoni to state the obvious and say that batting has failed and the Australians have played well. Where is their contribution to buck the trend ? If they have nothing to contribute, they have no business to be there. Make anybody a captain/selector and after every defeat , the same obvious things could be said. You have got to make things happen. Make the opposition play to areas which gives you chance of getting their wickets. Poor field placements which doesn't make batmen take risk have no meaning.

  • al on January 9, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    @stark-truth: Sachin will retire once he can ensure that Kallis can't get to his records. What's so complicated for you to understand here ? But VVS and Dravid must go now.

  • John on January 8, 2012, 21:04 GMT

    Now the odds are right will the Indians play for a win ?

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2012, 19:42 GMT

    go and get some real fast bowlers, thats the only way India's overrated batting can actually start winning

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2012, 19:25 GMT

    here we go again - cmon guys - even if India was shot out on the first day - our bowlers took 4 wickets - that is where the problem was - india scored 400 in the last innings and still lost. The match was lost when we could not dismiss Ponting and Clarke. Let us not get after VVS - he scored a fifty - what did our youngsters do - Sehwag is the most useless batsman with his wild shots and he has no idea about the situation - we wanted a good start but he is interested in whacking it in the air - we need more stable openers - sehwag must bat later if we want to win at perth !

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