India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 5th day November 10, 2008

Not feeling the love

Ali Cook
If he had to sit in the Gabba stands for next week's first Test against New Zealand for doing everything in his power to win here, he would have been celebrated

Ricky Ponting has now slipped below Steve Waugh as the game's most successful captain - his winning percentage is 68.75 next to Waugh's 71.92 © AFP

Winning at all costs no longer seems to be the Australian way, but it doesn't feel like supporters have gained a team to love instead of an uncompromising steamroller. The tourists still walk on the confident-arrogant border, sledge in times of strength and weakness, insist there is only one way to play the game, and mention "the spirit of cricket" as a defence when their behaviour or tactics are challenged.

It was one of the reasons Ponting gave for calling on his part-time bowlers instead of looking to his fast men when the over-rate became more of a concern than winning the fourth Test and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Bowling 90 overs in a day, something the Australians hardly managed over the past five weeks, suddenly came under the banner of a "spirit of cricket" issue. It's not the sort of response that makes you feel all warm and cuddly for the players' commitment.

There were many stages that cost Australia this game, from India's strong opening partnerships to the visitors' failure to attempt to disrupt India's negative line, to the inability of the fast men to strike regular blows and the illnesses experienced by Brett Lee and Michael Clarke. But no point was harder to understand than Ponting using his spinners on Sunday - and then watching them ease the pressure on India - instead of looking for a quick kill and thinking "stuff the consequences".

If he had to sit in the Gabba stands for next week's first Test against New Zealand for doing everything in his power to win here, he would have been celebrated. That's the sort of attacking outlook that would charm people. Ponting chose the defensive option instead and his side suffered and he has been heavily criticised.

Ponting has now lost two of the major Test trophies for similar reasons. In England in 2005 Australia was slow to catch on and unable to innovate. That happened again in India, unless picking Cameron White as a specialist spinner for three matches is creative. Old tactics were used with defensive field settings and bowling plans, but new trends were missed, especially with reverse-swing.

The home-and-away battle against South Africa over the next six months will determine whether Australia head to England for the 2009 Ashes as a world leader or a challenger. Despite a 13-point lead over second-placed India, Australia's No. 1 spot is no longer undisputed
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in charge of India the side looked vibrant and in control compared to the outfits of Ponting and Anil Kumble. It can't be a fluke that the two games Dhoni led, India won in dominating fashion. Dhoni was helped by a firing unit, but he provided the energy.

Ponting can manage that only when a team is in front, which is probably a product of him not being behind too often. That is changing. Ponting has now slipped below Steve Waugh as the game's most successful captain - his winning percentage is 68.75 next to Waugh's 71.92 - and it looks like it will drop further.

This is not a side that will dominate all-comers any more and the home-and-away battle against South Africa over the next six months will determine whether Australia head to England for the 2009 Ashes as a world leader or a challenger. Despite a 13-point lead over second-placed India, Australia's No. 1 spot is no longer undisputed.

For the past three Tests, Australia have been behind as soon as they have lost the toss. The fast bowlers have not had regular impact and Jason Krejza showed how much a specialist spinner could achieve with his 12 wickets on debut.

Krejza's performance was the only significant bright spot in another difficult game for the tourists, but he must now wait until the series against New Zealand to discover whether he can make it at home. Without Krejza's performance here, Australia would have been humiliated. Instead they were beaten badly.

"This tour we've just been totally outplayed," Ponting said. "With the exception of the first Test, where we pretty much dominated that game, in any other game we've got back to level, but never really got in front. Losing three tosses in a row, if you don't actually get yourself back in front after the first innings, it's very hard to win here."

It can't be a fluke that the two games Dhoni led, India won in dominating fashion. Dhoni was helped by a firing unit, but he provided the energy © Getty Images

On the third day in Nagpur, with Australia resuming at 189 for 2, Ponting hoped his side could draw alongside India's first-innings 441, but they were unable to innovate against the negative bowling of the morning session and the hope of parity was soon extinguished. "Coming here on the third morning I was really positive about how the game was going," he said.

"India adopted a certain style of play that made it very difficult for us, they chipped in with a few wickets and the scoreboard was going nowhere. Being behind on first innings again wasn't ideal and chasing 380 today was exceptionally difficult."

Australia needed a miracle and it was not possible for this team. Waugh's side only collected a chase around that size once. How Ponting and his men recover will determine how far they fall. Spirit will have to be shown in stomachs and hearts rather than being something that is talked about in times of trouble.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aaditya on November 11, 2008, 13:24 GMT

    Australia is better than South Africa.South Africa have a good pace attack but the only reason for a drawn series against india in india was the absence of key players like tendulkar & mainly sharma.Don't think Zaheer was playing either.Kumble might have been injured.Its a good team but a stratosphere apart from the indian or australian teams.

  • StJohn on November 11, 2008, 11:58 GMT

    Losing a series in India is no disgrace: a stronger Australian team lost there from a position of strength in 2000-01. The pending series against SA will provide a better measure of Australia's current strength. But the margin of Australia's defeat (the first series Australia has lost by a margin of at least 2 Tests in 20 years) signifies that the tide has turned and a new era in world cricket is beginning; it is reminiscent of the first time WI lost a series for 14 years, to Australia in 1994-5. Sure, there were other factors in play: Lee was off the boil; Symonds wasn't there; losing the toss 3 times; Hayden's belated return to form, etc. But other recent Australian sides managed to steamroll opponents and overcome minor setbacks. This side really seemed to lack the killer instinct and ruthlessness of its predecessors. Australia are still very good, but the aura of invincibility has gone, and dominance with it. Other teams will no longer fear Australia the way they did before.

  • Thewalker on November 11, 2008, 11:35 GMT

    Fines and suspensions will not work to solve the slow over rate issue. The players are pretty wealthy and the fine is just a token penalty which is not going to burn a hole in the pocket. Suspension is another joke. The player will just take it as an opportunity to rest legally.

    The ICC should modify the rules to award a sizeable number of runs per over NOT bowled to the batting team. Further, the team is automatically disqualified from any of the match awards, however well the players have performed. If the players feel strongly that their captain is the one who is slowing things down, in time, they will revolt. The players should not forget that TV time, spectators at the stadium and listeners on the radio which all adds up to a lot of money.

    The ICC itself is a bit of a joke, though. Think they will do something? Nah!

  • Rajaram on November 11, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    Dear Ricky,you are my hero because you are the ONLY modern day Australian captain who ruthlessly pulverised the Poms 5 nil in the Ashes 2006 -07. So I cannot believe for a moment that you would not go for the jugular when India was down 6 for 166 at Tea.Something must have happened during the Tea Break which made you change your tactics to focus on over rates rather than finish off the Indians.Perhaps this will come out confidentially when you meet James Sutherland.To combat the slow over rate,I thought you could have used the effective Shane Watson and Jason Krejza for 12 overs(1hour).If wickets did not fall by then,you had enough time to make up the over rate,using Clarke,Katich,Krejza,Hussey.If India were bowled out in the first 12 overs after Tea, you would have become a hero.If wickets did not fall,nobody could have faulted you.Even if you were docked one match for over,your critics,especially that Pom who is still licking his wounds-Peter Roebuck-could not have faulted you.

  • Nagaraj on November 11, 2008, 10:26 GMT

    No we are still not number one. Well the days of Australia's dominance might be numbered but, that does not mean India is number one. Yes, we are still one of those dominant sides but, number 1 means something else. See when Ajintha Mendis came into the picture we were surprised. Similarly initially when Bret Lee came into the attack we were no where. Similarly whenever a team has chosen a new strategy there's been a defeat. Now, am sure Dhoni is a different captain and probably those days of defeat might slowly sink into the sand but still, there is a lot that Dhoni and his men have to work on. Yes, rightly said we have seen what all have changed after MSD took over. All of these cannot simply be fluke. There has to be a difference. 20/20, Asia cup(marginally lost), Sri Lanka Series, Australia series, etc. Probably the journey towards being number 1 team in the world has just begun .

  • Pratyush on November 11, 2008, 10:05 GMT

    God, life is unfair! Ponting is usually the toast of the media and critics but now its the opposite. I dont think there is much shame in loosing to a side which has consistently challenged you wherever they played. Yes India won but I dint think we are still the No.1 side in tests, yes we are very good though. And I cannot understand the ex cricketers going after Ricky, in India it is a common practise but I am well and truly taken aback by the criticism. People need to understand that this was a depleted Australian side and an improved Indian side playing at home, which made it even tougher for Aussies to win. Yes there were some bizzare selections, most of which was playing Craig White, instead of a spinner or a quickie, which hardly anyone is questioning ! For me that showed Aussies were never quite sure of themselves. While Indian selections were more aggressive and made sense. Ricky is still a great player and a very good skipper and its quite unfair to get after him.

  • Jignesh on November 11, 2008, 8:43 GMT

    This is most certianly a win to cherish for a long long time. But, we still are miles away from being No.1 in the world. Yes, we have sighted the door, but we have to play hard and win all games hereon to be No.1 in the world.

    I quite fail to understand the Aussie fan's reaction. IT IS SO UN AUSTRALIAN !!!!

    To blame Ricky Ponting alone for the 4th day fiasco is being a bit too harsh on him. If I understand this stuff, it is the job of the back room boys to advice the Captain on such issues. So what was Aussie team management doin in Nagpur? The Manager,Statiscian should have worked a way out by lunch anticipating a warning from the match refree for the slow over rate?????

    I would go in for Nielsen's head instead of Punter.

    Australia is still the No.1, test team in the world and have no doubts about it. However, is the Aussie arrogance which lets them down.

    India beating the hell out of Aussies :) I am not complaining....


  • Hassan on November 11, 2008, 7:38 GMT

    I think being a cricket enthusiast from Pakistan i got to watch excellent cricket during the series and i think this series will go a long way in establishing Test Cricket as the purest form of the game. Australia has ruled the roost for well over a decade and losing a series does not make them a bad team they still are the world champions in Tests and ODI's and the benchmark for all test playing nations. India are coming into their own with the right blend of youth and experience which will be tested both home and away during the next few years. All i see is great times for Test Cricket and maybe during those great times someone would like to come over to Pakistan so that we can get some part of the action. Hard Luck to the aussies and Cheers to India for a job well done!!!!

  • Madan on November 11, 2008, 6:47 GMT

    andy_clo, I hope for your sake that Australia would beat SA as easily as you would like to believe. India had to dish out a rank dustbowl of the sort that would have had Ponting writing a newsy complaint to Broad in no time, to level the home series.. and yet, god knows, there were moments even in that Test match on day 1 and 2 when they came close to shutting India out of the match and winning the series. It's a much improved SA side and while Krejza's debut was promising, Aus really need that leggie back if they want to scare SA. :P And at the mention of dustbowl, I would like to mention that this Australian defeat is all the more remarkable for the fact that the pitches were placid throughout. Whatever Ponting might have said about the Mohali pitch, it was a batting beauty and not the sort of pitch where you lose by what 200-300 runs. More than defeat, the sheer magnitude of that Mohali loss should give Ponting a lot to worry about.

  • Renjit on November 11, 2008, 6:32 GMT

    The only time in the series where one could sense the Aussie team of the old was when hayden went on the rampage. They were really going for it. Other wise this team was a pale shadow of the Aussie teams of the years before. One could summarize the reasons for Aussie loss in the series as below

    1. The wicket keeper was haddin and not a certain Gilchrist. This meant that after the 5th wicket was down, the opposition could attack more. 2. krezja was dominated during the tour match which lead to him being not considered till the last test. 3. hayden's wicket was captured early in all the innings except the last one. 4.Brett Lee could not impress.



  • No featured comments at the moment.