India squander chance handed by bowlers
The Indian batsmen threw away the opportunity to beat Australia in two successive matches, turning a deaf ear to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's call for caution
Irfan Pathan took 4 for 41 with ball, but the move to push him to No. 3 batting spot didn't work
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The Indian bowlers have every reason to be annoyed. Led by Irfan Pathan, they did an admirable job in the afternoon, forcing Australia into a corner and giving their batsmen an opportunity to achieve the rare feat of beating the world champions in successive games. Instead, the Indian batsmen threw away that opportunity, turning a deaf ear to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's call for caution. The result was a huge disappointment for the visitors as Ricky Ponting and his men rose to the challenge and thoroughly exposed the frailties in the Indian batting order.
Chasing a small target is often tricky, and the best way to avoid the pitfalls is to keep wickets intact. That lesson was, unfortunately, lost on the Indians today. It's not the first time this Indian batting order has proved vulnerable. In the series opener, against the same opposition at the Gabba, their batting order was a series of stumbling blocks. Even though they beat Australia in Melbourne, their run-chase of 160 was anything but smooth - they slumped to 5 for 102 before Dhoni and Rohit Sharma performed the rescue act.
After that victory, which remains the solitary one for India in the tournament, Dhoni had pointed out that there was a lot of work to be done by the batsmen, especially in the area of protecting their wickets. However, apart from their second game, against Sri Lanka at the Gabba where they amassed 267, the Indian batting order continues to be creaky, and Dhoni must be tired of being constantly forced to do the repair job.
One area of concern is the middle order's dependence on Sachin Tendulkar - if he falls early India invariably struggle to post a significant total. At a time when Dhoni and the selection committee have shown their commitment to back youth, Tendulkar's imprint remains hard to replace. India's final score has invariably had a strong correlation to the opening stand: in the first game against Australia the first wicket fell at 12 and India folded for 194; an opening stand of 68 was the launching pad for the 267 against Sri Lanka; in the third clash, against Australia, the opening pair was split at 18 and India struggled to overhaul a small total; in their fourth game, the openers gave a flying start of 45 which was converted into a final total of 195 by the middle order in the rain-reduced encounter against Sri Lanka.
On Sunday Tendulkar struggled in his brief stay of 15 balls. His innings epitomised the problems for the rest of the batsman. At a time when the key was to keep wickets in hand, rotate the strike and build partnerships, all the batsmen failed on each of those counts.
To make matters worse, the think-tank continued with the experiment of promoting Pathan to No. 3. Dhoni insisted later that the move was the right one, but he might want to reconsider this policy for the rest of the games. In the two matches in which Pathan has batted at one-down, he hasn't looked the part and has been dismissed cheaply. Moreover, the tactic left Robin Uthappa with the unenviable task of attempting a rearguard with little support at the other end, which ultimately forced him to try outrageous and low-percentage shots. Uthappa at six and Pathan at seven would have given India's last specialist batsman a much better chance to turn things around, knowing that he had a player at the other end who could hold his own.
It's not every day that a team gets the opportunity to beat Australia in successive matches. But the Indians had that chance, and, thanks largely to their young bowling line-up, have become a constant thorn for the Australians. Unlike the batsmen, who crumbled in a heap, the Indian bowling attack had a plan, and they worked diligently at it. Even when things occasionally went awry - like it did when Sreesanth lost his way in his opening spell - the mistakes were quickly corrected, thanks to a combination of astute captaincy, sharp fielding and the bowlers' willingness to stick to the basics. These lessons now need to be passed on to the batsmen.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo