Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 2nd day January 25, 2012

India's gloom gets darker under a blazing sun

Bowlers usually get punished in Adelaide but India's hapless performance is not merely due to a flat pitch and in-form opposition

At first glance very little seemed extraordinary about the first two days of the Test unfolding at Adelaide Oval. The weather was hot, the pitch dry, and the batting suitably relentless. A captain and his predecessor peeled off double-centuries, and the bowlers wilted steadily under the glare of the sun. Take out a few advertising signs and new stands and it might have been any Adelaide Test since the second World War.

It is not sufficient, however, to attribute India's struggles against an Australian side guided by the flowing strokes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke to a flat pitch and a January heat wave. Australia's 7 for 604 declared was the latest episode in a series that has struck the same notes with about as much dogged consistency as a punk bass player. India did as they had done in Melbourne and Sydney, fetching early wickets then subsiding with all the compliance of a team that knows it is beaten. In Perth the wickets fell later, after spirits were broken by David Warner and Ed Cowan.

Few teams as prominently billed as this Indian side have been made to look this poor for an entire series, and by an opposing team in transition. It is arguable that not since Peter May's England in 1958-59 has a visiting party been so comprehensively trounced having arrived in Australia as warm favourites. The result that summer was 4-0 as a younger home side, led imaginatively by Richie Benaud and spearheaded by a strong pace attack, had too much energy for a team with players such as May, Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey, Fred Trueman and Jim Laker.

Then, as now, the tourists were thought to have brought their strongest team. India's squad was beefier than the one that had limped through England last summer, being bolstered by the return to fitness of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. The batting was far from sprightly, still relying heavily on Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman. Dravid referred to them as "a few creaking terminators", a description that has grown more poignant with each passing humiliation.

Their destruction has been brought about on the pitch by Australia's bowlers and batsmen. But off it India have been burrowed under by near-sighted selection and planning. Cricket history is littered with instances of players and teams that hung on too long and were punished for their tardy regeneration, and now the 2011-12 Indians are added to their number. Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman in particular do not deserve to be remembered this way in Australia, but it is inescapable that their final tour of this country will sour many memories, for them and their supporters. In that sense they resemble Muhammad Ali in the years after the Rumble in the Jungle, unwilling to bring the curtain down at the ideal time and paying a price for it.

While Tendulkar has made runs and looked fluent, he has found himself distracted by the pursuit of a milestone that is more a statistical quirk than a solid achievement. Dravid's feet and hands have proven to be slow and unsure on pitches offering more pace than those in England, where he excelled against bowling of similar quality but perhaps lesser velocity. Laxman's predicament is the saddest of all, as the man who confounded Australia for years looks immobile on ageing knees, unable to get forward to cover the movement on offer to the bowlers.

At the other end of the age scale, Umesh Yadav and R Ashwin have provided minor bright spots for India and in Adelaide they were joined in doing so by Wriddhiman Saha, the wicketkeeper called up to replace the suspended MS Dhoni. Saha's standards remained high throughout 157 overs and he conceded only three byes, while Yadav and Ashwin showed glimpses of the sort of bowling that is required to defeat the best batsmen. None of them are the finished article, but how much better might they have been with earlier opportunities?

Kris Srikkanth, India's chairman of selectors, now stands to face almost as much criticism as his former Australian counterpart Andrew Hilditch. A smiling, laughing presence in front of the cameras, Srikkanth carried the air of a man with not a care in the world for much of the past three and a half years. Yet he will now face a sterner examination from those who will ask about the likes of Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and the aforementioned trio. India needed to plan for this Australian tour in a more rigorous manner than has been evident. It is too easy in the current climate of non-stop fixtures to lose track of an opponent's development. The Australia of 2011-12 is nearly unrecognisable from that of 2010-11, yet India seem to have lost sight of their opponents' progress since they last met in the World Cup.

This leads to the door of Duncan Fletcher, India's coach. Fletcher has said he tried as much as possible to replicate the methods of Gary Kirsten, his successful predecessor. But they are different men, with different approaches. It cannot be forgotten that Fletcher ventured to Australia with a record of underachievement on these shores that few can match. Before the Adelaide Test he had coached international teams in 13 Tests here, winning one and losing 12. Australia's current selectors have placed an emphasis on the matter of whether or not the players they are selecting have come from winning teams. It may have been worth augmenting Fletcher's advice with other consulting voices, to help the coach as much as the players.

Most dangerous of all is the indication that India's attitude to overseas results has deteriorated, their desire and resolve waning with the rationalisation that home results count for more than those away - a populist view that has very little to do with the ways of high performance sportsmen. Taunts directed at Australia's batsmen from the likes of Virat Kohli and Ishant have suggested that it is the younger players who have taken this stance, bleak tidings indeed for those hoping for life beyond Laxman, Tendulkar, Dravid and Zaheer. It was the sort of view brought to Australia by Indian teams of decades ago. And it is another reason why the first two days of this Test should not be written off as that same old Adelaide Oval script.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    @The_Bengal_Tiger. Bradman would've been most disappointed to not get to play in subcontinent conditions. The flat, dead wickets would've been a lovely holiday after having to face up to deadly quicks on uncovered pitches. Sachin's a great batsman but he didn't have to play on uncovered pitches.

  • Kamesh on January 26, 2012, 7:33 GMT

    @ Rajababu... Oh yes you have a choice.. Stop supporting the team (sounds like you have anyway)... when they start to do well again you can go back to supporting them. Frustrating as it is, these guys are champions and would be hurting more... Oh yes and one more thing, conditions are different around the world, no one set of conditions are superior to another so stop belitting home wins... where do you think Australia is winning?

  • linus on January 26, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    It is clear to the Indian selectors that past records and statistics are far more important than current form. I would urge the BCCI to include Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Bishan Bedi in the next squad. They might even be able to coax Ravi Shastri to play instead of talk. We could then have the spectacle of a one day match in test cricket. We're down to 3 days anyway so why not further shorten the form of this game? It'll save the endangered fans some money in that they would need to buy tickets for just one day instead of 5. Interestingly, in sports like golf or tennis, the "legends" have their own league where they do not have to contend with younger athletes. In Indian cricket, the pot belly and the bum knee rule. Go legends. We bow to you. Lumber on to the boundary so the batsman can run four at leisure - who needs a rope?

  • Manoj on January 26, 2012, 7:24 GMT

    By getting banned, statistically, Dhoni escaped the ignominy of being only the second Indian captain to lose all matches in a tour of 3 or more tests twice within two years. The only Indian captain to suffer that fate was Tiger in the late sixties. Tiger was a young captain having taken over from an injured Contractor so he was given a long rope. Tiger was retained as captain in the next tour to NZ and India won it 3-1.

    I dont think Dhoni should be given any hope. He does not deserve his place in the team as a Captain or as a Batsman. He has lost his ability to inspire and should be allowed to have his honeymoon years in peace until he gets back the hunger to score runs and win TEST matches. This tour was supposed to be the swansong of THE THREE, perhaps return to India with a never before victory in Aussie soil. They must be clearly told that there are no Hollywood endings. It should be clear that THE END means at THE END.

  • Andrew on January 26, 2012, 7:23 GMT

    India were number one for the blink of an eye, so comparing them to Muhammad Ali is a bit much. Gambhir's call for "raging turners when Australia visits India is the same short sighted fix that has prevented India from being successful overseas for the most part. A team can be number 1 and not win in India. They can't be number 1 and only win in India. The reason India reached the top is that they won a few series away from home. Oh well, back to square 1.

  • Team on January 26, 2012, 7:17 GMT

    Mobil is simply superb as expected. Says showed and proved in the debut that many more youngsters waiting to better job than the current SENIORS in the team, Wake up BCCI it,s time to send off the old men.

  • Shyam on January 26, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    Excellent article...So much for the vision & foresight of our egoistic selection panel and the professionalism of our players.Now they all will be waiting for the next two years where India dont tour outside and knowing the fanatic public will forget this humiliation. as a fan, cricket has been my first love (until now!, perhaps) and I would not have felt any bad if Indians went down 4-0 but with a Fight!! This team should only be allowed to play ODI's and T20's under the nation's name and the test team should be a BCCI XI or FUN XI, not India for sure!

  • Vinod on January 26, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    Sehwag is the most selfish cricketer in the Indian dressing room. Selfish because he plays for his own pleasure regardless of the match situation. Even if IND is trailing behind by 500 runs on the 5th day, he will play brainless shots instead of saving his wicket for the team's cause only because playing those shots give him pleasure and he thinks only about his pleasure. How could you forget how he wasted so many reviews during the world cup without consulting the batsman at the other end? That was pure selfish to save his own wicket to have more pleasure at the team's expense (reviews). He must be fired. Pronto.

  • rocky on January 26, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    Another 4-0 whitewash............

  • Prasad on January 26, 2012, 6:17 GMT

    Its time for clean up. Pink slips must be handed to Sewag, sachin, laxman, dravid and dhoi from test cricket and inject young blood in the team. How can you expect all these 40 year old be able to judge a ball coming at 150kms/hours India should develop separate teams for tests and one days and T20. Give opportunity to all those who shine rather than sending the old hogs overseas

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