January 8, 2012

India in Australia 2011-12

India's 100th excuse

George Binoy

"Six successive defeats abroad, the imminent departure of three giants, the crumbling of the Test team: Indian cricket faces its most existential interrogation since the match-fixing scandal. But all it seems to bother with is Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century. Strange priority," writes Ashok Malik in the Pioneer.

Ever in denial, there are those in India who say MS Dhoni’s team is paying for the pressure of awaiting Tendulkar’s 100th. The pressure, if any, should be on him. Why should it bother the rest of the team, all 10 of them? Funnily, it doesn’t seem to have affected Tendulkar’s form. In four Test innings in Australia, he has two 50s, one 40 and a lowest score of 32. He’s batted with appeal and authority.

The problem has been elsewhere. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid make up — along with Tendulkar — perhaps India’s greatest batting order. The other four have hit one 50 each in the past two Test matches. Failing in three innings out of four on a tour as tough as Australia isn’t going to help you take your team too far. The trouble is there — it’s not in whether or not or when Tendulkar hits his next century. Why has the rest of India decided to feel the pressure and nervousness on Tendulkar’s behalf?

"I know the time for the seniors is all but over and if one knows the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman well, they are not going to leave it to the selectors to decide their fate," writes Pradeep Magazine in the Hindustan Times. "Don't be surprised if the end of the tour also sees them announcing their retirement. They are a proud duo and have done more than enough to deserve a dignified and respectful exit."

The discomforting thought is not that we may be seeing the last of this great generation of cricketers, because of whom we started winning abroad and became the number one Test team in the world. The feeling of disquiet comes from the thought that we may not have enough players who are even half as good, to replace them. In an era where private enterprise is hell-bent on promoting products like the IPL, are there enough players left who value Test skills over the shorter version's requirements?

"What if we were to replace the three aging stars of the Indian middle order with fresh talent?" asks Sumit Chakraberty in DNA. "This is not as outrageous or drastic a step as it might first appear."

What good is all the experience at India’s disposal if it can’t cope with challenging conditions abroad? After all, it’s when the ball starts doing a bit that you need a well-developed batting technique. If it’s just a matter of piling up runs on flat tracks back home, hitting through the line of the ball without bothering about getting forward or back, the Rohit Sharmas can manage that well enough, thank you. Surely a talented player like Rohit merited a place in the middle order along with Virat Kohli after the fiasco in England. We have just not groomed new batting talent over the last decade and that’s why the team is now getting moribund.

In the Indian Express, Karthik Krishnaswamy says MS Dhoni has been defensive in his captaincy in away Tests, and India are suffering because of it in Australia.

How much longer can India retain their faith in their abilities and convince their minds that a breakthrough is imminent? asks S Ram Mahesh in the Hindu.

VVS. Laxman played himself out of touch in England, the pull stroke costing him his wicket when magic balls weren't. He was manacled by Australia's bowlers in the three decisive innings in Australia thus far. The three — and the openers, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — haven't fired together for the length of time they did when India was changing perceptions of its touring capabilities. The fast, moving, bouncing ball has constantly threatened their survival; they haven't found a way collectively to extend the opposition bowlers into their fourth and fifth spells when the bodies are tired and the ball does less.

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George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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