Australia v India, 1st Test, MCG, 4th day December 29, 2007

Choking to win

India weren't blasted out of this Test, as a 337-run margin would suggest, but squeezed out of it

Australia are mastering the art of choking India's batsmen with unconventional field placements © Getty Images

There was a time in the morning session, when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were in the middle, when Stuart Clark bowled with a short mid-on and two short midwickets, a semi-circle of three waiting for a chip in the air. Mitchell Johnson, bowling at the other end, operated with a staggered slip cordon containing five catchers and Andrew Symonds, brought on soon, was operating with a short midwicket, a lone third slip, and two short extra covers.

It was gimmicky but must have also been suffocating. India weren't blasted out of this Test, as a 337-run margin would suggest, but squeezed out of it. Ironically, in an innings where they went at a shade above two an over, five of their batsmen succumbed to the drive. They were choked with accurate bowling, tight field-settings and were trapped when trying to break out of jail. Even when India were seven down, there was just one slip in place. Often there were two points in place, prompting one hack to joke, 'one backward point and one awkward point.' The plan wasn't to intimidate but to cage.

Rewind to the series opener in Bangalore three years ago and things weren't too different. Unlike in 2001 and 2003-04, when the approach was more upbeat, the 2004-05 series was more about slow-burn. Australia weren't going to come out with all guns firing; it was more about turning the screw gradually.

It was a similar kind of pitch in Bangalore: unresponsive for stroke-making and getting slower and lower as the game went on. The weather wasn't too different either. Australia had their plans in place and executed it perfectly. Take out Virender Sehwag and you had a set of Indian batsmen who didn't try too much to upset the strategy. Conventional wisdom tells you to stay there for the runs to come but India needed to break out of the mould. Three years later and they walked into the same trap yet again. South Africa might claim the 'chokers' tag but Australia are mastering the art of choking India's batsmen.

Australia weren't going to come out with all guns firing; it was more about turning the screw gradually

The problem India have is their stay-and-the-runs-will-come approach has worked well in overseas Tests recently. They ground their way through the England series, with efficient and not spectacular performances, and saw the same work for most part of the recent series against Pakistan as well. Opposition bowlers have not been able to maintain the same intensity for too long. Opposition captains haven't had that many strategies up their sleeve.

"If you are looking to win Test matches you need a positive and healthy run-rate," said Anil Kumble, not shying away from the root of the problem. "Obviously the conditions did not help. The way the Aussies bowled and us losing wickets at regular intervals didn't help. But whenever we had a partnership we were scoring at a healthy rate so we just needed one batter going on to get a big score. It's just a matter of going out there and batting freely. We didn't do that in our two innings."

It's a fair assessment. The Tendulkar-Laxman and Laxman-Ganguly stand saw runs being scored at more than three an over. Australia, though, seemed to know a means to get through. Just as Dravid and Laxman appeared to have settled into a groove, you had Symonds changing from medium-pace to offspin. Three balls later, Dravid was trapped in front. Sachin Tendulkar showed the right intent, trying to push the rate on, but Brett Lee had a trick up his sleeve: bounce, bounce, bounce and throw it short and wide. Trying to break the shackles, Tendulkar nicked.

Laxman was up against one that stopped on him, saw his handle turn in his wrists, and popped one straight to extra cover. He was caught at a conventional field position but you would think it was the mind-games that might have put him off track. It's tough to adjust to a freakish field in one over and an orthodox one in the next.

If there's anyone to break open these handcuffs, it's Laxman. Look at his masterpieces against Australia - the 167 in Sydney in 1999, the 281 in Kolkata in 2001, the 178 in Sydney in 2004, and a few others - and you have a batsman not afraid to pull, charge or drive on the up. He's shown the power of an unfettered approach. India need to free their minds; it's the only way they're going to get anywhere in this series.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Umair on December 30, 2007, 8:41 GMT


    Come on, I beleive India can do much well despite being a ardent Pakistani fan :P. Stop bashing the poor Indians. We should NOT jump to the conclusions that when a team looses it because its not a bunch of patriotric die hard players. Indians have a much better playing capacity they need to fuel the fire within. When we lost to India in India (recently) it doesnt mean we had a unpatroitic bunch of players, it was merely because Indians played alot better and we respect that.

    AN honest morale booster for the Indian team is to switch over to Cricinfo and read the latest post by Sydney Boy... if that doesnt pump them up NOTHING ever will!!!

    BEST OF LUCK INDIA... REGARDS an Ardent Pak Fan... its time to kick some much needed Aussie a*s :)

  • Shaju on December 30, 2007, 8:17 GMT

    Yes, I am an Indian.. But not surprised with the result. With the kind of team that indian selectors had opted for the first test, we can't expect a better result. First of all there is no logic in bringing Sehwag to sit aside and ask Dravid to open. They are just disturbing Dravid who is struggling to find his confidence back & retain his spot in the team. He was not consistent thoughout the Pak series. Now another failure here. How could the selectors justify his place in the team for next test at SCG? Also there is no point to blame Yuvi at this stage. Ofcourse he is a special talent and those who want to stamp him as a one day specialist is not doing it with the right intention. The cry to remove the Big 3, whenever a match fails also can't be justified. What the selectors need to do for the next test is to think logically to include Sehwag on cost of Harbhajan considering the nature of Aussie conditions. Otherwise the selectors will be the real losers here, not the players....

  • Roofus on December 30, 2007, 7:41 GMT

    NO amount of player changes will help this indian team. The simple fact is that they have not allowed their batsmen any time to adapt to aus conditions . After struggling with anything short or at the body on a slow low MCG pitch I shudder to think of the possible carnage in store on a WACA pitch which has pace and bounce unlike anything India has encounted before. With the possible inclusion of Shaun Tait(the fastest bowler in the world) Aus would have assembled the fastest bowling group since the great West Indies. If India fail to come to terms with the pace of Aus pitches by Perth, the scares both mental and physical could have long lasting effects on future indian tours of Aus.

  • Ashok on December 30, 2007, 7:07 GMT

    How India Lost the Match? Indians have started the game negatively, even after they are on top of the game on the first day. There is no team(even Zimbabwe)in the world will score just 31 runs in 22 overs after pushing the opponents to a below average score like 343.Iam still amused by the nature of mindset of people like Dravid and Kumble.When the opposition team is trying to apply the pressure on these people, these people are magnifying that pressure. This leads to the negative play.Dont say that Australians bowled too good.Dont you say there is not even a single ball to score in the 63 dot balls faced by Dravid in the first innings.If u play an innings like this even when ur team is on top of the game,How can u play in the pressure situations.A player of Dravid's calibre should not feel like I will get out if I play my shots.Dravid,there is no bowler will get you out when you are on top of your game,its ur mindset which is getting you out.To play aussies, attack their first ball

  • Nav on December 30, 2007, 6:41 GMT

    India needs to understand that playing two spinners in Australia is never going to bring in victory. Harbajan should not be picked for the tests and only if Kumble has an injury should he have been playing. Even the great Murali couldn't pick up 4 wickets in the recent two tests. Even if Kumble feels that the pitch might favour spin, you are there to handle it. but u need three pacers in your team.. Irfan is the choice for harbajan and viru for yuvraj. If yuvraj still gets his chance, then he really has to play aggressive cricket...

  • Niraj on December 30, 2007, 6:19 GMT

    Much has been talked about Australia's brilliant bowling and India's poor batting performance after Australia's remarkable win at MCG. However, few noticed the role openers Hayden and Jaques played in this match. They scored 288 runs between them in this game. Take these runs out and you would have a totally different picture. At Sydney, Kumble and co. should come up with some plot of breaking this opening partnership quickly and unsettle the Aussies. Although the aussie batting lineup has tremendous talent and tenacity to handle the early loss of openers, but still this could help given the current form of these batsmen. India need to bring in Sehwag or Karthik in place of Yuvraj and put Dravid at his usual #3 spot. Yuvraj was a total failure and for that, poor Dravid was forced in the opening slot. And would someone please tell 'sydneyboy' that cricket is NOT India's national sport and who knows, after overcoming the new atmosphere blues, India will crush Australia's b***s!!! at SCG.

  • h on December 30, 2007, 5:24 GMT

    Really a match Australia won with such easy stillshows Pakistan team goes outfighting while the Indians when try to overthink the opponents fall hard. India should just have flat pitches an only play games at their country where all these stars look like celebrities.

  • aussie29_98 on December 30, 2007, 5:02 GMT

    As an aussie, I cannot believe how poorly India aplayed. in fact i would go as far as saying they were disgraceful!!!! as the national sport of India and with a population of 1 200000000 people with over 130 million registered players, you guys should be smashing us. Cricket in Australia has to compete with Rugby union, Rugby league, Australian Rules and soccer for junior players and our population is just over 20 million ( about the population of Mumbai!!) when an Australian represents his country he grows some balls and has fire in his belly and will fight for victory. Nothing but a win is good enough. See who always wins the commonwealth games. The answer is Australia. Watching you guys in Melbourne was nothing short of humiliating for your nation. they need to step up the tempo and grow some balls!!! If this is the national team of your national sport, then you guys should go play something else!!!

  • rishi on December 30, 2007, 4:34 GMT

    First of all Indian players should keep in their mind that only India can defeat world champion Australia, if Indians look in the past they have got the highest innings total to date at the SCG ground is 7d/705 in 2004,so in this match India should remember that previous match which they played in SCG in 2004,I think India should pick Sehwag for the remaining matches as he is the only one who can give India an explosive start followed by Dravid, VVS Laxman should come on number 3,and also instead of Harbhajan Singh India should pick Irfan Pathan as he is excellent with reverse swing and quiet useful with bat as well when he comes on number 8. Where India has two part time spin bowlers Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag can be useful in the later days of the test match. Come on India, you still can win the series. Just play your natural game and don't play under pressure, be optimistic to win the series as it's now or never.

  • hard on December 30, 2007, 4:00 GMT

    The art to beat Aussies is to deffy them. Rahul opens and starts with run rate of 1 run per over!! India needs somebody like Srikant to open the innings and take that slips cordon completely off. Keep them on the boundries and take your twoes and threes along with singles. Only Tendulkar played with this spirit. Maybe he needs to open with Gangully and play like they are chasing a score of 350 with a lot depending on them as opening pair.

    Submitting is like suicide and Rahul is not helping himself by opening with 1 run per over average and less then 20 runs per innings. Annoy aussies by a fresh new team with a new approach, all wanting to proove and win. Aussies have already figured out the vets. No point in playing them again and again, if they cannot innovate with centuries.

    BCCI cannot do this.

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