December 9, 2006

India need top-order answers


On a pitch that rewards accurate and intelligent pace bowling, the Indians should still go on and win this match. But success won't be able to deflect attention from the continued inability of the top-order batsmen to put decent scores on the board. Once again, the Indian batting against the new ball was wretched, with Alfonso Thomas doing what Morne Morkel had on Thursday, and only a stolid effort from VVS Laxman prevented an embarrassing capitulation before stumps.

The first five wickets in both innings added just 124 runs, less than Irfan Pathan's tally from No.7. Wasim Jaffer didn't trouble the scorers, Virender Sehwag aggregated 10, and Sachin Tendulkar 22. Laxman couldn't build on starts in both innings, while Sourav Ganguly's marvellous first-innings effort was sullied somewhat by the nature of his dismissal on Friday. And against a bowling line-up that seldom allowed him to free his arms and crash the ball around, Mahendra Singh Dhoni also offered no solace, picking up just 22 from his two innings.

As Alfonso Thomas said later at the press conference, the pitch has certainly aided the quicker bowlers, but it certainly hasn't been unplayable. "They played too loose," he said, when asked if he had been surprised by the top-order capitulation in both innings. "It's the sort of pitch where you need to bat time. Once you get set, you can score some runs." Thomas, who played here for three years before moving on to Centurion and the Titans, knows the surface better than most, and he used that knowledge to great effect in picking up 5 for 32 in the Indian second innings.

Zaheer Khan defended the batsmen, saying that they had done wonderfully well as a unit to get to 316 on a pitch where Rest of South Africa folded for 138. But take away the 139 that Pathan and Ganguly added on the opening afternoon, and you're left with a far less appealing picture. It also can't be denied that the Indians had by far the better of the batting conditions on day two, with sunshine replacing the grey skies that had overseen Rest of South Africa's mediocre batting effort.

With the opening Test only a week away, the opening conundrum will vex the Indians the most. Rahul Dravid spoke yesterday of how it was essential to get off to a good start against the Kookaburra ball, which becomes a far less lethal proposition once it loses its shine. But in each innings, the Indians were four down by the 21st over, leaving the lower-order batsmen to bail out a badly listing ship.

Sehwag has been a sitting duck to the full ball that nips back a shade for months now, and Tendulkar has issues of his own to work out. With Jaffer also struggling to replicate his displays against England and West Indies, there's a real fear that the batting will be overly reliant on Laxman and Rahul Dravid, with Ganguly providing the X-factor.

Thomas, Morne Morkel, Friedel de Wet and Nantie Hayward have bowled superbly as a unit in this game, but a huge gulf in class and experience separates them from the quintet of Ntini, Steyn, Pollock, Nel and Kallis that the Indians will face at the Wanderers. The opportunity for time in the middle has been wastefully squandered, and they can only hope that the net sessions leading up to the Test imbue the top order with some measure of the confidence that hasn't been in evidence at all on this tour.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 10, 2006, 16:29 GMT

    Well I have been following Indian Cricket for a better part of about last 25 years. The comments and suggestions made above are all very incisive and in fact practical. I just want to know that Tendulkar despite being hailed as the best batsman ever has won how many matches for India. To me it seems that he thrives only once the entire team is performing and cowers whenever the team is not performing. Dravid is exactly the opposite, a fighter who will perform once the chips are down. I have gone through statistics of both the players and it revealed that Dravid despite his lesser fame than Tendulkar has done much much more for Indian Cricket. Tendulkar on the other hand seems to take delight only from making personal records and reaching new milestones. I request all of you to provide me with some out put on my observations and whether I am right in my assessment. Please do remember that my observations are strictly based upon the statistics of both players over their entire international careers.

  • testli5504537 on December 10, 2006, 11:32 GMT

    I think the main problem plaguing India is the failure of the openers to give us good starts in both forms of the game. I think the time has come to take a call on players like Sehwag. His one day form has been pathetic for the last year. Also i think this is the worst phase in Tendulkar's career. He's not getting any younger and he has issues which only he can resolve. He has just 5 test hundreds in the last 4 years. Lastly i think talent alone cant win us matches,we need players who are willing to fight it out till the last.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 16:39 GMT

    The indian team should stop relying on players like Sehwag and Dhoni because they were taught to play on dead pitches. They are in South Africa right now and they are having difficulties adjusting. Sehwag may want to use the Graham Smith book. This being staying on the other end while Pollock is bowling especially during the new ball. We need a AB De Villiers to defend him but still score runs. Gautam Gambhir will do well but i dont think Wasim Jaffer is getting anywhere at the international level

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 16:23 GMT

    People who talk about wanting Sachin to retire in the hope it will help the world cup bid have no idea what they're talking about. Just look at the stats, his average in ODIs this year is 44 and about 10 runs higher than Rahul's. In fact of the last six years his average was higher than Rahul's in 5 of those years. I'm not picking on Rahul just comparing Sachin against a top calibre batsman that nobody would ever say should be dropped. Do people not remember Sachin's 141 not out against the Windies a couple of months ago or his century and 95 odd in pakistan earlier in the year? He has many years of top cricket left in him and is one of the few players that have the potential to win us the world cup.

    Though clearly there is a huge problem in the team at the moment. If any team is consistently underperforming in any industry you need to question the management. In this cash both coaches and the BCCI. What influence is Chappel and the coaches having? There is a lack of mental strength in the team as a unit, the coach needs to address that. Tactics. Why have five specialist bowlers and then consistently have batsmen bowling a large chunk of overs, then is 4 bowlers not enough? Selection. Why was Anil Kumble ignored for so long when he is clearly the most lethal wicket taker in the team. Selection and Infrastructure: Why in a country that a quarter of the world live in and that is so passionate about cricket is there a lack of world class fast bowlers.

    These are the types of questions that need to be asked and answered.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 13:29 GMT

    To Miss.Pradeepam. It is not that the Indian weakness against quality seam attack has once again been exposed. Instead, it always has been the case. Indian tour to South Africa, 1997-1998. The Indian top orders were facing Allan Donald at Kingsmead, Durban. At the beginning of the Indian innings, I went for ward round. Before even I had finished my ward round, India was all out for 82. It all happened in a matter of a couple of hours.

    Unfortunate as it may sound, most of the centuries Tendulkar scored in his career have gone in vain (i.e., India did not win, despite his century).

    The Indian cricket has long been the reluctant host to the so called ‘stardom.’ This is clear to those of us who have been following Indian cricket from outside the sub-continent. It should also be clear to them.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 12:43 GMT

    Prof.Kahn, I agree that the Indian cricketer's Inability to counter quality seam movement on bouncy tracks has been exposed again.. but have absolutely no doubt that Tendulkar has got another few years of Excellent batting left in him..

    Even when we were winning those 17 wins in a row, all was NOT well. May be we fail to remember the 3 most appalling Defeats in recent History. 1) The collapse in Bangalore test against Pakistan 2) Even worse batting display to lose the test in Mumbai against England 3) Shocking batting to lose that "Pathan" hat trick test in Pakistan.

    People forget these kind of Horrible test victories easily.. The truth remains that Our batting was already in some kind of disease. and now its showing up fully.

    Hoping to see them perform better.. But winning a Test in S.Africa may remain a distant dream yet again.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 12:40 GMT

    well,i think its time now india look into fresh talent.sachin,sewag,jaffer,all should be rested.they have become a burden for the team.sachin is not even his shadow long can india give them chances to perform.i think india should fallow aussie way.kick them out who don't perform.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 12:23 GMT

    The indian batting lineup is certainly having a tough time espicialy when the wc2007 is just a few months away. Sehwag is really having a bad time. I think he should return home and start on his basics instead of wasting time there in SA and so do Tendulkar, coz we are at the 11th hour of the wc2007 countdown. We need these batsman to be in form during WC2007. Tendulkar bhai plz do something , coz we would not like to see you getting dropped from the team. Regarding Ganguly i am glad that he is back and i am sure that he along with dravid will be the batsman upon which the indian batting will revolve around in SA. It's good to see pathan getting his first century, but he shouldn't forget that he is bowler first, but certainly his unbeaten innings has certainly given a huge boost to the lineup and i would like to see him in first test, no matter if we even have to rest Tendulkar or Sehwag. Zaheer, i m sure will also have to play a huge part. Laxman has to really prove a point and this is the time when the rest are struggling. Regarding Dravid, as usual no worries but needs to be a little more aggressive with captaincy.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 11:26 GMT

    It's not as if we can't win without Sehwag and there is no guarentee that we will win the world cup if Tendulkar retires. But if a few of the older players are dropped for a match or two then it might bring in some new blood, which is very much needed as we need the equivalent of at least a whole team if because of the World Cup closing in on the Indian team.

    It is unfair to blame just Sehwag or Tendulkar because India now lacks the fundamentals of a successful team which is teamwork. If one gets out then the next batsmen should build on but atleast the first 4 are getting out hopelessely. They should learn from the Aussies, when Hayden gets out then Ponting takes control then Hussey. The first few partnerships completely demolish the opposition. BUT I KNOW THEY CAN STILL WIN THIS SERIES IF THEY PUT THEIR MINDS TO IT

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2006, 11:03 GMT

    Time has arrived for Tendulkar to retire from International Cricket. Often, it becomes i big news that he is injured and therefore he would not be available for so and so test. However, does it really matter much whether he is in or out? The same applies to the entire Indian top orders, including Dravid. The results of the forth coming test series in South Africa are a forgone conclusion-it will be nothing short of another WHITEWASH. The basic fact is the inabilities of the Indian cricketers to play on a bouncy track.

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