India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 5th day November 16, 2010

Flat pitch can't hide India's bowling woes

ESPNcricinfo staff
The Hyderabad pitch may have been great for batting, but that shouldn't overshadow India's bowling problems

Player after player came to the press conferences and spoke of how this was a better pitch because it had "more bounce". At the end of five days though, the result is exactly the same as it was in Ahmedabad, where Chris Martin's superb new-ball spell in the second innings provided the only drama on a surface every bit as poor as the national highway prepared for Sri Lanka in 2009.

India picked up four wickets in two sessions on Monday. Tim Southee was bowled by Sreesanth, who celebrated as though he had just broken the game open. The other three were gifts. Kane Williamson got a terrible decision, Daniel Vettori slapped one to cover with the game safe, and Brendon McCullum skied one after having toyed with the bowling for more than nine hours.

What will the "pitch experts" say now? Before they came along to ruin the majority of Indian pitches, the country did produce some engrossing Test matches. You only have to look back at the memorable series against Australia in 2001. Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai all produced results, with the final two games going the distance. Each surface was different from the other, yet they all provided great stages for the tussle between bat and ball.

MS Dhoni was scathing in his assessment of the conditions when asked about the 0-0 scoreline heading to Nagpur. "We might have to play 10 days to get a result," he said. "That's what I frankly believe. The wickets have been on the flatter side. We didn't play well for one hour in the last Test, but that aside, there's been little over the 10 days for seam bowlers or spinners."

On a day when bowlers from the three highest-ranked teams in the world took a pounding, it might be worthwhile to ponder the wisdom of a Test championship. How exactly will it resuscitate interest in the venerable form of the game when boards and groundsmen worldwide are failing the most basic test? Even New Zealand, once known for its seam-friendly surfaces, has recently come up with pitches that would have done justice to timeless Tests.

The pitches in England this past summer sometimes went to the other extreme, but you'd rather have that and the excitement of seeing batsmen tested than games like this, where a total of 500 becomes the mundane norm rather than the exception. Yes, there was bounce on offer in Hyderabad, but at the end of five days, the surface was as free of blemishes as the airbrushed faces in fashion magazines.

India are entitled to a little whinge about the lack of deterioration even on the final day, but with the Nagpur Test just days away, energy would be better expended on an analysis of a bowling attack that was once again made to look utterly insipid. Zaheer Khan, who struggled with a groin strain in this game and will miss the next, is exempt from criticism, having taken 41 wickets at 22.92 this year. His strike-rate of 41.2 is outstanding for someone who has played each of those eight Tests on the subcontinent.

Dhoni refused to accept suggestions that the team was too reliant on Zaheer, but his response only highlighted how central he is to India's bowling plan. "We have others who have done well," he said. "You can say that he's been our spearhead, whatever the track may be. But we lost him in the middle of this game and it became a bit tough. The other bowlers are doing their job though. With a bit more assistance from the pitch, I hope they'll be able to get batsmen out."

As for the support cast, the less said the better. Harbhajan Singh has 31 wickets at 44.7 from nine Tests. He's needed more than 97 balls for each of those wickets. As for Pragyan Ojha, he has 28 wickets at 46.96 from eight games. His strike-rate? 100.3. The fact that they've often had to do containing jobs in the early stages of games on lifeless pitches is a mitigating factor, but what shouldn't be overlooked is how Daniel Vettori has bowled immeasurably better than both so far in the series.

Against a better line-up than Harbhajan and Ojha have had to contend with, Vettori has varied his flight and pace beautifully to compensate for the lack of turn and uneven bounce. India's fifth-day bowling, by contrast, was a monotonous succession of balls pushed through at the batsmen, with the field spread out and runs there for the taking.

When Zaheer hasn't been taking wickets, with new ball and old, India have largely been devoid of plan B. The default option appears to be containment, and against a team like New Zealand that have played the waiting game with aplomb, it's come a cropper. Instead of forcing the issue with aggressive bowling and fields to back it up, India have gone on the defensive against an opponent too smart to fall for the rope-a-dope.

In life, good things might come to those that wait. But in cricket, as in most sport, victory is the preserve of those that make things happen.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manesh on November 19, 2010, 4:35 GMT

    @shadeen, I am not an expert. But at least I know what is Test cricket and what is ODI.I agree No:1 were not able to beat No:8, but the same happening with other teams too. No:2 not able to beat N:6, No:3 not able to beat NO:7. But you are comparing the ODI wins aganist Test draws!!!. If the NO:9 (last team) beat NO:8 in Test, then you can argue. Otherwise no point in that!

  • P on November 19, 2010, 2:54 GMT

    dhoni takes out one catching fielder per shot from opposition batsman. so four shots and all catching fielders are gone. india won matches with spin having catching fielders no matter what the situation. dhoni is hyperdefensive. waiting for some luck to strike like lightning. no catching fielders - no pressure - no chance of wickets. get in a aggressive captain and teh same bowlers will do better - can't see one on the horizon though

  • Moha on November 18, 2010, 15:47 GMT

    What I have found out that the ranking system is a joke. I have the followings to prove. 1. NZ is simply playing in India. There is just zero difference between both teams (NZ is playing with so called no.1 team) 2. Look at SA v Pak: Pakistan almost won the ODI series (still it is very close 3-2). If you look at the test series Pak simply drew the match. SA couldn't bowl out low ranked Pak (Trying to find excuses). Most of the umpiring decision went against Pakistan. So how can SA be rank 2 or 3 team? 3. SL, my own country, rank 2, is playing with very low ranked WI in our own soil. WI was about to win the first test (Well It is now in drawing condition even with our home advantage). *SL captain criticized the system. I am really proud of him for the truth.

    We should have some kind of intelligent system: 1. If you win with top ranked team you should get more points than with low ranked team. 2. Winning in other countries should have more points than winning at home.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 14:19 GMT

    NZ is playing better cricket and giving india a taste of their own medicine great batting by brendon india's problem is the same, lack of quality bowlers, which is there as long as i can remember NZ deserve to win the series but even if they draw the series it will be as good as a victory

  • kazi on November 18, 2010, 14:04 GMT

    @ man oo7- i agree that there is a difference between odi nd tests.......but is that difference so huge that the worlds no 1 test team cant beat the no 8 team in two consecutive test matches (at Home).....moreover it just happens that this no 8 team has just had a humiliating tour of bd where they have lost 4 consecutive much so that vettori called it the worst period of his entire career nd their board official resigned........ whereas india have just defeated the aussies

    do explain.....i m waiting 2 be enligtened with ur expert opinion.....after all we didnt even know the difference between tests nd odis LOL

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    India played good cricket and they deserve to win, India fightback next match, brendon mcculums was lucky to get double hundred, i think the was out but empire gave not out

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 5:58 GMT

    @ to all sachinbashers: guys hate him.. it doesnt matter to him, n it doesnt matter to us (sachin admirers).. we adore, worship, idolise, venerate, revere and exalt him and we will to the last breath.. for us yes cricket starts with him n can end with him. fine u want us 2 accept we do not love cricket but just love sachin, well sure we do u cn keep bashing him as he keeps scoring runs and centuries one after another.. well ofcourse other players can play n try n aspire n dream to find such love and admiration from as many fans as sachin has, but it wont matter us.. for us he is not just a hero.. he is that rare breed, who is great enough that his humility does mean a lot in this world.. all others who are humble arent great enough, or great but not humble enough.. he may disappoint us at times but that also is just god like, god too disappoints us many times..;) so u can save ur energy or waste it for nothing.. no one can change our admiration nor it will discount his greatness

  • Manesh on November 18, 2010, 5:01 GMT

    People who don't know the difference between Test and ODI doesn't deserve any reply!. Comparing ODIs with Tests! LOL

  • Andrew on November 18, 2010, 0:21 GMT

    @zak_ris, you are correct, the simple fact is that Vettori hasnt had as good a series as Harbhajan had with his 32 in 3 tests. He has been a consistent wicket taker his whole career, with his best effort 20 wickets in two tests against Bangladesh a few years back. He has really only once completely destroyed a class team (Australia in 2000, 12 wickets in the test at Eden Park) and has barely turned a ball in 10 years, but his consistency marks him out as a class act. Harbhajan was most certainly close to, if not the best off spinner in the world at his peak, but he hasnt even closely approached that 32 wicket haul once in all his subsequent series. I would be loathe to say that he has lost his wicket-taking ability completely, but based on what he has shown in this current series he may struggle to run through batting lineups from here on. For world cricket's sake I hope I'm wrong, but age catches up to everyone eventually.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2010, 18:12 GMT

    India has made the same mistake as Endlnad is making by obsessing about the next series as opposed to the current one. Sreesanth is in the team becasue India would like him to play during S Africa series and repeat his heroics from 4 years ago. Ishant is a better attacking option considering he can perform and rattle at least in spurts, even when he is otherwise struggling - like he did against Australia at Mohali when he opened up the game for India in the second innings. India's bowling has always been ordinary as a unit and this one is no exception. Being ranked #1 now for over a year with this bowling unit, goes you show how increbibly good this batting unit is. Success rate of about 70% in next four away series (A Africa, WI, England and Australia) would seal the legacy of this batting unit in the history of test circket, if it hasn't already.

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