Beyond the Blues

India should strengthen bowling on batting tracks

Stats do the talking: Sri Lanka post a colossal 520 for 8 after being reduced to 393 for 7

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
Yuvraj Singh congratulates Munaf Patel for Ross Taylor's wicket, New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Hamilton, 4th day, March 21, 2009

India should have gone in with the extra bowler in Galle  •  Associated Press

Stats do the talking: Sri Lanka post a colossal 520 for 8 after being reduced to 393 for 7. India, on the other hand, lose the last five wickets for a paltry 26 runs in the first innings. Once again, five middle-order wickets pack up in 36 runs in the second innings -appalling figures that sum up the Indian tragedy in Galle.
Was it the Indian batting that failed twice in Galle or the bowling that allowed the Sri Lankans to post a mammoth total or, perhaps both? What exactly was the reason behind India's dismal show in the first Test? While armchair criticism is rampant at this time, a bit of introspection, not misplaced criticism, would do us a world of good.
In my view, we started the first Test match on the wrong foot. The team's endeavour, especially the No.1 team in the world, should be to win the match regardless of the toss and the conditions. Since you need 20 wickets to win a Test match, it's imperative to tighten up the bowling unit before the start. While picking the playing XI, one must take into account the track (which would always be batsman friendly in the sub-continent) and the possibility of losing the toss (which means bowling first).
Did we have a bowling department convincing enough to dismiss the strong Sri Lankan batting twice? If the honest answer to the question is a No, it rests the issue. We hoped that we would win the toss, bat first and post a huge total, make Sri Lanka bat twice and 'perhaps' win the Test match. But as we now know, Test matches are not won on naive presumptions.
Let's have a look at how the first Test panned out. The bowling looked quite listless to start with which was perhaps along the expected lines. You don't expect an attack comprising a debutant, a rookie and a bowler making a comeback of sorts to run riot. Even the senior-most bowler was under the weather and perhaps wasn't a 100% fit.
Just to add to India's woes the track was flat and MS Dhoni called incorrectly. While the fast bowlers redeemed themselves somewhat and brought India back into the game, their slower counterparts failed to step up. Sri Lanka's lower order made merry and the No.8 and 9 batsmen notched up their highest first class scores. Our bowling had run out of steam by the time the tail arrived.
Yes, the famed batting line-up failed twice in Galle, but had the Sri Lankan tail not wagged as much, we wouldn't have fallen short of the follow-on mark. No, I'm not trying to defend the batting breakdown, but only saying that even if India batted better, we could have only salvaged a draw. For batting can either set up or save a Test match but rarely win it for the team.
While saving a Test match is an art, you must always plan to win. Despite the twin failure, I'd say that our strength lies in batting and hence can provide cushion to the bowling department. India must play bowlers who can take 20 wickets and if four bowlers don't look resounding enough, there's no harm in playing five. In any case, Dhoni at No.6 is as good a batsman as you could ever get at that position. By sacrificing one batsman you'd put some real pressure on the batting line-up and undoubtedly they'd respond positively.
It's only wise to strengthen your bowling on good batting surfaces, just like you bolster the batting on surfaces which assist the bowlers.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here