Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 4th day January 27, 2012

Rigid India falter again

Even after seven batting failures on tour, the visitors didn't try to break the rut by experimenting with the batting order
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In the end it was so sad it was funny. With less than three overs to go in the day's play, VVS Laxman fell to a long hop, and walked off stunned. Out came Ishant Sharma, a nightwatchman for No. 7 Wriddhiman Saha. Virat Kohli, India's best batsman on the tour, and not used to trusting the lower order, understandably forgot the purpose of a nightwatchman, and instead began to shield Ishant. In doing so, he ran himself out on the last ball of the penultimate over, trying to steal a single.

It was funny because it happened on a day batsmen were falling to full tosses and long hops. It was instructive because it laid bare the mental state the team is in. It was sad because throughout the eight innings of a series where the batsmen have underperformed, consigning Ishant to nightwatchman duties has been the only change India have brought to their batting order.

It is baffling enough that the batting personnel have continued unchanged - it still is consistent with India's traditional ways however incorrect it sounds - but previous captains and previous teams have played around with the batting order to try to break the hold of the opposition bowlers in tough times. India's 10 years of good Test cricket have been replete with occasions when VVS Laxman has been promoted to No. 3 to do something different. India have made those decisions at times in the middle of a series, at times in the middle of a match, and sometimes before the start of a series.

They did so famously in Kolkata in 2000-01 under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright. On a beast of a turner in Mumbai in 2003-04, the team of Rahul Dravid and Wright once again promoted Laxman to reap a gem again. Anil Kumble, forced in part by the decision to open with Dravid, asked Laxman to bat at 3 on the last trip to Australia with good results. Kumble and Gary Kirsten did the same when India could read Mendis and Murali in Sri Lanka in 2008, although it didn't work this time.

In Australia, though, the Indian batsmen have been failing innings after innings all series in almost the same manner, but there seems to be no effort to shake things up. Innings after innings we have spent hoping for the sight of Laxman or Virat Kohli - who incidentally finds himself in a state similar to what Laxman did in 1999-2000 - walking out at the fall of the first wicket, but India have been set in their ways. The Australian bowlers have not been forced to change their pre-series plans at all.

If the ways with the Indian team management have been so set, perish the thought of sending in Virender Sehwag, so clearly struggling against new moving ball, in the middle order to perhaps better use him. And at any rate, even if you are going to be stubborn, it didn't make much sense in leaving a young Kohli stranded with the tail so often.

It is perhaps unfair on Dravid to ask him to open yet again. It is possible the captains might have felt it disrespectful to demote him. That, though, is not close to reality. Had they changed the batting order, it would have been a desperate move. And these have been desperate times. That was the successful Indian team's hallmark: they found a way. You are losing, you are losing consistently, you change things up. You try to break the rhythm. Sometimes you need to do desperate things.

Because promoting Laxman has worked in the past, it was surprising to hear from MS Dhoni after Perth that until then India had never given a thought to changing the batting order in their six previous failures at all. That rules out the reluctance of any of the batsmen to bat out of their comfort zones. Forget the batting order, which is less fluid than bowling changes, India introduced Ishant in Perth after Umesh Yadav had been introduced, taken off, and brought back again to bowl to a rampaging David Warner. Dhoni's reasoning was that they did so because Ishant is not a swing bowler. Because of that stubbornness Ishant came on to bowl when Australia had reached 0 for 89, and Zaheer Khan had gone for 44 in his six overs.

In Adelaide, although as defensive as Dhoni, Sehwag at least juggled better with the bowlers. R Ashwin was brought in as early as the fourth over, albeit on a track that was closest to what you get in India, and the results were there. This is not to say that India would have won the series or lost fewer Tests had they changed the batting order. Nor is this to suggest that Laxman would have scored a century from No. 3 or Kohli would have scored more than he has from No. 6 or Dravid or Sehwag would have found form batting lower than they have been doing. However, by doing so, India would have shown desperation at the most desperate of times as opposed to going through the motions as props in a play that was almost certain to go down this path ever since they were bowled out for 191 on the first day in Sydney.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Wismay on January 28, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    @ Jose Puliampatta Why are you bringing some useless topic? I was talking about batting order and in australia openers were struggling and Tendulkar could have opened but no one mentions it and Rahul's name is mentioned, including in this article. Sachin has done well in this series? Why are you mentioning it? Compare it to Dravid in England! So you are admitting that Sachin will fail if he bats on any other position? If not why did you mention his runs while talking about batting order? Stop being a fanboy. Rahul fails in one series and you guys start about changing his batting order. Why the same doesn't apply to Sachin? He has failed many times and gone through bad phases like Dravid. It is nothing but bias and worshipping someone as God, without any objectivity.

  • Wismay on January 28, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    What difference will batting order do when players are struggling? What most guys overlooking is even when Rahul was successful with 3 centuries in England, India got thrashed 0-4. So the problem won't be solved by one Rahul or Laxman or Sachin. All players need good training to play on foreign pitches. And India can't get good bowlers if they keep playing on batting friendly pitches. Ridiculous bowling and inept batting, how can India win?

  • dummy4fb on January 28, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    @Ishwar Prashad: You hit the nail on the head on one point: this Australian side is not a great one by any means.

    I don't think the Aussie team is as good as India made them look, and I don't believe that the Indian players are as bad as their team result makes them look.

    I think the result is due to rigidity, but not as described in this article:

    The Australian bowlers turned unexceptional individuals into a very good unit by sticking to a plan;

    The Indian batsmen turned a lineup including some exceptional batsmen into a mediocre unit by refusing to adjust to the bowlers' plans;

    The Indian bowlers turned individuals who ranged from average to very good into a below-average unit by straying from plans;

    And the Australian batting lineup turned individuals who ranged from possibly below-average to one or two exceptional into a very good unit by at least one or two understanding and adjusting to the situation.

    India actually need to be more rigid in places, and less so in others

  • zenboomerang on January 28, 2012, 5:09 GMT

    @Sidharth Monga... It is all good & well to blame the batsmen, but not acknowledging the Oz bowling group shows a lack of completeness... Oz now have 2 top 10 world ranked bowlers(Siddle, Hilfy) with Pattinson just below Ishant after just 4 Tests & Harris one of the most economical & tight bowlers going around... Yet for India only Zaheer stood up in all 4 Tests with Ashwin OK, Yadav a work in progress & Ishant bowling the same length as Oz bowlers did last year to England... This Test series India needed 3 batters to stand up & 3 bowlers - sad to say it just didn't happen...

  • yuvirulz99 on January 28, 2012, 3:53 GMT

    Living in Australia, and having seen every ball this series the changes that need to be made include: 1) Remove Ishant Sharma - the guy has has had one good spell in his career. It's absolutely ridiculous to come out of 4 matches in pace-friendly conditions with only 5 wickets, when other fast bowlers can get 5 in an innings. 2) Bring in Suresh Raina - his batting may be abysmal, but he fields like a dog. Warner for Australia has saved around 50+ runs per innings and taken amazing catches, for only one good innings with the bat. 3) Laxman and Dravid are well past their prime, and should have retired with dignity like Sourav Ganguly. 4) Forget a coach, get a tactician - All you people saying get rid of Dhoni are shameless. The guy led India to test rank 1 and world cup victory. No degree of captaincy can you win a test match when your batting line up can only produce 200 runs.

  • moBlue on January 28, 2012, 3:39 GMT

    the way i see IND after the 3 greats retire, and when IND play a tough away series: we have only a few slots filled. pujara @ #3, kohli @ #4, and sehwag @ #5, zaheer @ #10 and yadav @ #11. the rest of the slots are all wide open. let us hope rohit or rahane fills in #6 successfully. i'd drop dhoni and start playing saha, karthik and parthiv in that order in dhoni's place in IND to see which of them proves to be the better wk-batter for us! two of them have the ability to open, which might come in handy in tests abroad. i'd also start the hunt for a great attacking spinner on unhelpful tracks - ashwin is not it! - maybe i'd start with ojha and wait for bhajji to rebound; i hope there are others [like rahul sharma], but the prime spinner's slot abroad is wide open! we also need 2 openers who can play the moving ball on fast bouncy tracks. gambhir should be dropped. the last fast bowler's slot is wide open too! with a shrink's help and some bribes, sreesanth maybe? :) or irfan? or aaron?

  • dummy4fb on January 28, 2012, 3:32 GMT

    I WOULD BE BE HAPPY TO SEE DRAVID, LAXMAN AND SACHIN EXIT THE INDIAN TEAM. LET'S NOT GET EMOTIONAL, WE NEED TO GROOM OUR YOUNGSTERS FOR THE SHAKE OF BRIGHT FUTURE OF INDIAN CRICKET. WE ALL KNOW WE CANNOT REPLACE GREATS LIKE THEM, BUT WE HAVE LOT OF TALENT POOL WHO CAN BUILD THE FUTURE OF INDIAN CRICKET AS THE TRIO DID WHEN THEY STARTED.

  • moBlue on January 28, 2012, 3:17 GMT

    so much sound and fury about the 3 IND greats! you think IND would not have lost this badly if the 3 had been dropped?!? have you watched our younger players closely? i ask y'all the same question i asked before the entire series began... who are you going to replace the 3 greats with? i can think of one name, and one name only: pujara... when he is not hurt anymore. rohit sharma? despite all of your infatuation with him, thanks to the IPL, he hasn't done a thing yet when he had his chances to show that he has the temperament needed for tests. [i am happy to see kohli mature as a batter in this test series.] sehwag will want to play at #4 or #5. so... we have space for 2 openers [talking of a tough away series, a couple of years from now], pujara at #3, sehwag at #4 and kohli at #5. that is it, people! we don't have a #6 yet, even if you might wish for rohit sharma to make it his own. i hope he succeeds. yuvraj would have worked at #6 but he is weak against the bouncer and he is sick.

  • spin_king4 on January 28, 2012, 3:09 GMT

    PROBLEM: IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS THE INDIAN BATTING LINE UP HAS ONLY SCORED 9 CENTURIES, OF WHICH DRAVID HAS 5. the main culprits are gambir, sewhag, tendulkar(who for all his lovers has not scored a century in over a year) and laxman. Ashwin averages more than gambhir or viru, 1) THE OPENERS MUST GO, the opening patnership averages just 28 in last 15 innings with 4 1/2 centuries only and averages 13 away, this has to be the first to change. Bring in mukund and rahane who have shown potential and more importantly technique in domestic and limited internationals so should be given an extended run. 2) laxman just looks like he doesnt care anymore + his fielding has gone down dramatically this tour, he should be replaced by rohit or pujara ( i prefer pujara but rohit was on the tour so deserves his go). You cant cut the whole batting because you will start a rot like the current windies had but should start with these changes and over next few years phase sachin and rahul.

  • spathy on January 28, 2012, 2:34 GMT

    BCCI only have time to fight to stop DRS , no time to prepare for any away series

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