Sehwag blames 'soft dismissals' not pitch
Unlike India's innings, which went around in dizzying circles, Virender Sehwag's explanation for the failure did not. What transpired on the second day against West Indies at the Kotla looked, on scoreline alone, a repeat of what kept happening on the tour of England. This time on supposedly friendlier and more welcoming territory.
In their previous 15 innings India have scored more than 300 only once. During the collapses in England, only one at Trent Bridge was shorter than the 52.5 overs India's batsmen faced at the Kotla. In Delhi, they got to 100 in the 16th over and then lost 9 for 109.
For the first hour it looked like normal service was restored: Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir took their chances, flayed the bowling, and the crowd at the Kotla kept building. In the two-and-a-half hours following Gambhir's departure it was as though the England tour was being relived, but without dangerous swing or chest-high inquiry from an attack capable of aggression and control. The pitch played slow and got lower, and while West Indies' bowlers were energised, they were far from their lethal forefathers of a few decades ago. It is why 109 for 9 is a reflection on India's batsmen, and not the wicket they batted on.
Sehwag, India's top-scorer, tossed aside all crutches of comfort about the performance. "The wicket was good. Nobody got out because of the wicket. A lot of the dismissals can be called soft dismissals. It's a good wicket to bat on, keeping a bit low, but it's still a good wicket to bat on."
Praise be for Sehwag's plain speaking. He may have said it to stay confident about batting last, but a reality check never hurt anyone. India had begun before lunch as though the pitch was one of the many toll roads being built in Delhi's National Capital Region, scoring at just under eight an over, lashing boundaries and splitting fields. Sehwag, who only just fully recovered from his shoulder surgery, warmed up well for the season and, with Gambhir, turned over the strike and the scoreboard. "We were not forcing ourselves to play quickly, it just happened," Sehwag said. "They were bowling on our legs and sometimes outside off-stump, we were just hitting normal shots."
Gambhir's dismissal, run out while backing up too far, was unfortunate but everything that followed, as Sehwag said, was just soft. "It happens in Test cricket. Suddenly Gautam got run out and then I got out, and then Tendulkar and Laxman. All are soft dismissals. When one wicket falls, you sometimes lose concentration and you get out, and then it is not easy for the middle order. They don't know what's happening, how much bounce there is in the wicket. There was a little bit of reverse-swing. So it will take time." Collapses, he said repeatedly, happen, except India must prove that this repeated occurrence is not a 1990s rut they have fallen into.
Playing crowd-pleasing shots at the Kotla, Sehwag said, was difficult once the ball got softer. "In India, you will get wickets like that. We are not complaining about anything. We have to be patient. Wait for the bad ball and put it away for four." The India batsmen made that rudimentary instruction appear like rocket science all afternoon.
Any criticism of the pitch must be tempered with the fact that West Indies, with inexperienced batsmen in opposition conditions, hung around for 108.2 overs to scratch their way to 304. India's batsmen, however, did not hunker down long enough to wear out the bowlers, barring, of course, the habitual redeemer Rahul Dravid, who along with Sehwag and Gambhir, was the only other India batsman past 25. As partner after partner arrived and departed, no one would have blamed Dravid for closing his eyes and dreaming of England.
This Test is India's chance to renew its bouncebackability, which was flattened in England this summer. Just over a year ago, that quality was India's fingerprint in Test cricket. The last time they won a Test at home after trailing in the first innings and batting fourth was against Australia in Mohali. Eight men from that team are still around and cricketers never forget their best jailbreaks.
India are not in jail yet, but are not completely free from their shackles either. "We will have to be careful in the second innings, and we will not repeat the same mistakes, and chase whatever target they give us," Sehwag said
When Sehwag was told West Indies wanted to set 400, he said with scarcely disguised disdain: "We thought we would make 1000 runs in the first innings. But to say and to do are two different things. Anyone can say what they want."
India would want to dismiss West Indies for fewer than 150 to set up a chase of around 250. "I think the match is evenly balanced," Sehwag said. "It's not as if the wicket is very bad for batting. Even now it is a good track but to score runs is not very easy, when the ball is reversing a bit or keeping low. Therefore the batsman's thinking becomes a bit defensive because the ball doesn't come off the wicket as well as he would expect it to. If tomorrow we can get them out quickly, then I will say we perhaps have the upper hand."
India must now bridge the gap between saying and doing. There is time and there is capability. At home, they always have belief. What they need is a result to reinforce it.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo