August 14, 2011

Have India lost the Australia series already?

India have problems in every department, and it doesn't look like they'll be able to fix them in time for their year-end tour

India's performance against England has been abysmal but things could get worse before they get better. This disastrous tour has been a while in the making. The selectors' failure to address issues like an ageing batting line-up, a declining offspinner, and substandard fielding in the five-day game, has finally come home to roost.

The shrewdness of MS Dhoni's captaincy, the potency of Virender Sehwag's strokeplay, and the bowling of Zaheer Khan have all done a better job than spackle in covering up the Indian cracks. But like firemen on their sliding pole, the descent for India will be much quicker than their steady climb up the rankings was.

In all likelihood, India will be ranked No. 3 by the time they tour Australia. Following three heavy losses to England in the last Ashes series, Australia, it was assumed, would be easy pickings for India. I wouldn't be so sure.

With all Australia's problems - and there are many, with two reviews into poor performance running concurrently - they do have fast-bowling potential. If they get the bulk of their young fast bowlers fit for selection, Australia should field a decent pace attack. If they do, the Indian selectors, who have been negligent in their duty, could face their worst nightmare.

The selectors have been reluctant to show faith in some talented young Indian batsmen. Now they have to choose a team for Australia where there are serious questions about the ability of some to play short-pitched bowling. Further muddying the pool, India's better batsmen are now a liability in the field.

Most Australian pace bowlers grow up certain of one thing: they know how to bang the ball in short. Whether they do it wisely is another question, but judging by the performance of Suresh Raina, Abhinav Mukund and Yuvraj Singh in England, quantity will suffice if quality is in short supply.

The Indian selectors also have the added concern of the bowlers. In addition to batting and fielding weaknesses, the bowling attack is in tatters.

The Australians can struggle against good spin bowling. There have already been glimpses of this in Sri Lanka, although the Test batsmen are better equipped than those whose demise in the Twenty20 series was abject.

In the days when India didn't have much pace bowling they were still able to hold their heads high in Australia thanks to quality spinners. In 1967-68 and then 1977-78 India made Australia fight hard for every advantage through the skill of spinners like Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Bishan Bedi.

If India can get Zaheer fit and Ishant Sharma back to the form he displayed on his last tour of Australia, then with Mishra and another good spinner they could have their best balanced attack

Those times are a distant memory. Harbhajan Singh has for long been a better defensive bowler than an attacking weapon. And while Amit Mishra is a steady legspinner who has some value in Australia, he needs the faster bowlers taking early wickets to be effective.

If India can get Zaheer fit and Ishant Sharma back to the form he displayed on his last tour of Australia, then with Mishra and another good spinner they could have their best balanced attack.

The selectors have to decide whether Harbhajan is worth the gamble, and if they do, hope Dhoni can cajole or berate his offspinner into a return to his more attacking ways.

The biggest issue facing the Indian selectors is finding a batting line-up that can score enough runs in Australia to give the bowlers a chance. Of the experienced batsmen Sehwag is the best equipped to mount a counterattack that will set the Australians back on their heels. However, it's too much to expect Sehwag to play a lone hand, so Sachin Tendulkar may be forced to play a more proactive role in this ploy.

Of the younger batsmen Rohit Sharma is the most talented, and he also copes best with the short-pitched delivery. He should have been in the Test side a while back. It would be asking a lot of him to take on an aggressor's role in his first Test series and in a hostile environment.

Then comes the job of drastically improving the fielding. It's crucial to catch well and field athletically on the big grounds in Australia. With ageing batsmen and poor fielding bowlers, this will be a difficult selection puzzle.

The selectors have failed to confront the tough issues and now face a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situation. If India slide quickly down the rankings, weaknesses off and on the field will have played their part.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • puneet on August 17, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    Team India's success was based on a master plan created by their famed coach GARY KIRSTEN- who unfortunately is no longer in charge- He had the Team India going whether it was at home or abroad-he managed to get maximum output out of all the players who were not world class but manage to pitch in their 2 cents on consistent basis which eventually added up in final analysis and therefore Team India did well overall- Mr. Duncan Fletcher took over the world champions thinking that the team will move on its own from the high of being Recently Crowned World Champions and with big names like Sachin,Sehwag,Dravid,Dhoni,Laxman,etc in team- One or the other will fire and get the results single handedly but the calculation went terribly wrong with unforeseen injuries to the big guns and not enough ready to play and perform bench strength that Duncan has nowhere to hide but to expect these big guns to fire at least in the final test- Hope he gets in touch with GARY soon for few words of wisdom.

  • Radley on August 17, 2011, 12:05 GMT

    India was on a high after their recent world cup victory. This thrashing in England might bring them crashing back to earth !

  • James on August 17, 2011, 1:29 GMT

    @Nampally I think you do the ECB an injustice by claiming they are solely responsible for the current schedule. Remember that the Indian team had around a week off between the WI series and the England series. The ECB had *no* control over the scheduling of that series. The only people to blame for the schedule of India tour to WI is the BCCI. The reason the BCCI left the tour as late as they did was because of the IPL. I am not saying that IPL should be ditched or anything of that sort; I'm just saying it how it is. The matches couldn't be played much later in England without running into the serious possibility of the matches being severely affected by rain. In such a marquee and important series, that is the last thing either board wants. So don't lay the blame at the feet of the ECB. The BCCI scheduled the WI tour and that's why there was no time between tours.

  • romanc on August 16, 2011, 15:03 GMT

    Hi Chappell don't try to cut someones banana plants when your Home is burning.

  • karthy on August 16, 2011, 13:08 GMT

    i do believe sehwag's form is crucial.if he gets going he can put the bowlers in defensive mode and captain's to change plan'a' to b,c and d.also, he is good in tests than odi's.form of dravid wil surely help the bowlers who wil make bowlers to bowl accurately than having a shattered, it wil b sehwag as major factor even if he makes just a quickfire one.

  • Amjad on August 16, 2011, 12:16 GMT

    Let them finish losing in England first, they are still in that dreadful English nightmare let them get to their sense a little and then we'll talk about another serious drubbing a bit latter.

  • Ramachandra on August 16, 2011, 9:32 GMT

    Who among the so called young guns has made a case to be included? India has been able to win the matches it has won because the bowlers fired (with Zak as the spearhead) and we haven't LOST because of the batting and the performances of the big 3 (or 4 if Sehwag is also included). Just look at the last major test series - the one in SA. Sachin and Laxman were the standout performers in the batting dept. How can they be put aside because of 1 bad performance? There is no doubt about Rohit Sharma's potential, but he has been woefully lacking in temperament and has lost out to Raina, Pujara and Kohli. Just look at his ODI record. I recollect Ian mentioning abou Rohit & Sehwag in someother article as well. Hinting that India just stayed on top on account of only Sehwag's & Zaheer's performance (not taking anything away from these 2 champion cricketers) would be ignorance to say the least. Necessary to touch upon the reason for the greats' failure instead of taking hasty decisions.

  • Sridhar on August 16, 2011, 1:55 GMT

    Aussies would have the upper hand.. Only and If Only.. V.V.S. announces his retirement before the Down Under Series.. Lol

  • Ashok on August 15, 2011, 23:59 GMT

    Ian, it is bit too soon to write India off for theAustralian tour later this year. The same team as toured England with 4 changes will do the trick.Ashwin, Kohli, Jadhev & R.Sharma will replace Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Mukund. Hopefully Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar will get some much needed batting practice and get into shape. Indian batting li9ne up is very strong and it is just unfortunate that they were short of practice & injuries to key players. No way Sehwag will get out for a pair again. Also the conditions in Australia are closer to Indian except the pitches are more bouncy. The ball does not seam or swing asmuch as in English conditions. So expect a solid Indian performance.ECB had a very bad schedule presented to India who unfortunately accepted it instead of putting all 4 county games ahead of the tests. This was a major factor in the indian defeat - lack of practice on Englishr pitches.ECB were crafty in putting such lop sided schedule & BCCI were too foolish to agree.

  • Alex on August 15, 2011, 22:43 GMT

    No more short bowlers. It does not work unless you are malcolm marshall and he was 6 feet. India need 6feet 6" fast bowlers to match with aussies and england.

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