All fall down

The very best of Virender Sehwag was on view today. So was the very worst.

[That sense of schizophrenia did not apply to the rest of the side – with the honorable exception of Badrinath, who celebrated his long awaited call up with a level-headed half century before triggering the post-tea slide, what we got from the rest was their unalloyed worst].

While the other batsmen, lulled by a two year diet of largely batsman-friendly tracks and the kind of “pace” provided by teams such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh et al, seemed completely overawed by the speed and fire of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, Sehwag motored along at a health one day rate, taking 34 off 38 Steyn deliveries and 21 off 38 from Morkel.

More than the runs scored, what stood out was the application Sehwag brought to his task. While Gambhir, Vijay and Tendulkar collapsed around him, Sehwag batted in his own zone, defending when it seemed to be called for and counter-punching whenever the bowler lapsed even marginally in line and length.

As his innings developed the Proteas, despite being well in control, seemed to be feeling the heat – the bowlers resorted to defensive lines, the fielders dropped back a few yards, and debutant Badrinath was able to find his feet under the senior batsman’s shelter.

And then, shortly after he had gotten to his hundred and the water cooler conversation had turned to his penchant for scoring big once past the century mark, Sehwag threw it away with a flashy shot he had no business playing.

With Sehwag and Badri looking assured against the quick guns, Smith had been forced to turn to his second, and even third, string bowlers. Wayne Parnell, who Sehwag had taken for 24 runs off 17 deliveries faced, resorted to bowling as wide of off stump as he could, under the more lenient Test norms, get away with. Sehwag could have let them go all day, but after four successive deliveries wide of off, the batsman chased at the fifth, sliced it to the cover fielder standing back on his haunches, and walked off shaking his head.

If he was as disappointed as he looked at having given it up, his team mates gave him a chance to get over it – a spectacular post tea collapse against the extreme pace and reverse swing of Steyn, that saw India lose six wickets in 46 deliveries for 12 runs, gave Sehwag a second chance.

He came out swinging – through the slips, over cover, whatever, in a display as ugly as it was unexpected. Steyn made one climb outside off; Sehwag let it go, chastised himself for his leniency and mimed the upper cut that he, at least by his lights, should have been playing. Before you had the time to say ‘bad idea, dude’, he went for the next ball, fuller outside off, got the edge, and found a delighted Smith at first slip.

The best of Sehwag, the worst of Sehwag, all in one day that saw India get a long delayed comeuppance against genuine pace. Much was made of the reverse swing the Indian bowlers had tried, and failed, to find when the Proteas were batting. In a devastating day long display, Morkel and Steyn showed that even on relatively harmless tracks, sheer pace through the air can smash past the defenses of good batsmen [Gambhir, Vijay, Tendulkar in the first innings before Sehwag and Badri steadied the ship] and that a quick bowler operating with the older ball, bowling the full length at extreme pace, can harness reverse to lethal effect [Steyn, whose post tea spell read 3.5-2-1-5].

During the euphoric period when India under MS Dhoni were unbeaten in Tests, there was always the nagging thought that somewhere, some time, the “law of averages” was going to kick in. More accurately, there was the thought that one of these days we would find ourselves against opposition that didn’t have names stretching 140 characters.

Ironically, India found such opposition only because the BCCI, seduced by the team’s statistical feat of climbing to the top of the Test charts, saw the sponsorship opportunity inherent in a “World Championship” Test series, and managed to shoe-horn one into the calendar.

It may not seem like it at the time, but this series is already proving to be a blessing – we can finally put our sense of notional superiority aside and find out exactly where we stand in terms of being a high quality Test side, and start work on building the sort of team that doesn’t require a buffet of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb ranking ladders.

It could be a process that involves some considerable short-term pain, but it could also be the start of a team building exercise in the real sense.

35 thoughts on “All fall down

  1. Prem,

    The article is a little disappointing. Yes we collapsed and losing 6 wickets for 12 runs is criminal in any form of the game. Over the last 3 years we have played Aus at home and away and our record stands at 3-2 overall in those two series. We should’ve won that Sydney game. We did not do too bad in NZ winning 1-0 and the Napier draw was almost a victory. How else do you explain staring at a 300+ deficit and lasting 2 days.

    We played SA and drew the series at home in 2008. We won against England at home and away. We won against Pak at home. In tests we have had 2 series against SL back at home and away. And since the season 2007-2008 we have played Bangladesh only once.
    Yes we have not yet won in SA and Aus but I’m sure that too will happen.

    So why the accusation that we have been feeding ourselves on mediocre bowling attacks off SL & Bangladesh in last 2 years & climbed the ranks thanks to them when we have played the top 4 tests team and won fairly against them?

    Why is it that one debacle causes so much criticism. Steyn has blossomed into a fantastic bowler and let’s give credit where due. The selectors made a mess by not keep a specialist batsmen as reserve and you cannot be blaming the new line-up for the debacle right away. The senior players can be blamed – Gambhir, Sachin & Dhoni for not putting their hands up. Even there Gambhir and Sachin fell to unplayable deliveries.

    Rahul and VVS were in and out of the test team for 5-6 years before they pulled that miracle in 2001. If we run down the team owing to just one innings we are the bigger culprits.

    Yes they did not do a great job yesterday but this team time and again has taught us not to give up; so why are we doing that? A few selection mistakes were made, it is not the end of the world or one collapse does not take away years of hard work from them. They are not super heroes who will succeed every single time. They can still turn it around.
    And so we lose this match – big deal. We have the next test and we can still level the series if we lose this match which btw is still not over.

    I’m not saying praise them when they perform badly and don’t point out the flaws but I don’t expect such negativity in reporting from prolific journos like you and we definitely need more objectivity here.

  2. It seems to me that this is a matter of bench strength. 2 big names (Dravid and Laxman) are missing and this is the effect.

  3. Prem,

    Whats your opinion on cricinfo article after today’s play about india’s future.
    I am not sure about you but I am noticing more and more dubious articles from cricinfo these days.Before test they are singing tunes about badri/vijay etc. we all know how badri has earned his spot and we all know how Vijay has fared thus far. Saha’s debut is just accidental. I mean how can as reporter you just write off specially Vijay/Badri after day’s play. Actually failure was more of Gambhir/SRT/MSD.
    Are we just having toooo many reporters/writers educating us about game?
    Where Mr. Sambit lal and somewhat mastery in finding new talents in writing. I am thinking of earlier lot of Amit/Deelip etc.

  4. Pingback: Was India’s Test Success Just A Mirage? « Ducking Beamers: A Cricket Blog

    • My thoughts exactly! Doing poorly in the first inning of a series isn’t exactly new for the Indian team. Let’s give this decidedly under-strength line-up a chance over the next 3 innings of this tour before bemoaning the status of Indian cricket, shall we?

      And let us give credit where it is really due – Steyn’s brilliant bowling, which would have undone most teams, I daresay, so let’s not be too harsh on our weakened middle order. We’ve had days when one of the Indian bowlers too ran through a top side – heck, even Agarkar did that once against the mighty Australians under Waugh. I wonder how much breast-beating there was in the Aussie press then about their batting failures – not much, I reckon. While much is written about the need for a winning attitude or “killer instinct” in our team to be a real champion team, surely the team’s supporters too need to develop a more measured outlook, no? How about a slightly longer temporal perspective than the immediate past series which were, yes, against BD and SL? Hasn’t Dhoni’s team performed well, consistently, against a number of other teams also, both at home and abroad, over the past two years?

  5. how many times, we have seen sehwag getting out playing a defensive shot and getting a nick.I can not remember many such incidences.
    He always get out attacking no matter he is at 10 or 195(in aus) or,what is the fuss.
    Today when sehwag was playing watchfully,it was apparant that he will go berserk sooner or later.Once,he feels like hitting at every ball,then he gives a more than equal chance to the,unfortunately,he was out only when he has reached into that zone just.
    He tries to come out of any situation by blasting away successfully or unsuccessfully.we,as a viewer,feel at a loss whenever he gets out early or later.

  6. I have a couple of questions and points to make:

    1. How do batsmen handle late swing, with the bowler capable of moving the ball either way, coupled with extreme pace? Do they really see the shine on the ball and predict which way the ball is going to move? The correct ‘shot’ for Sachin to have played (in the first innings) to the ball he got out would have been to leave it alone. But how can he be sure that the ball wouldn’t come in and clean up his stumps, a la Vijay? Just wanted to understand the ideas used by different batsmen to handle late swing at high pace.

    2. As Harsha said in an interview with you, if somebody practices surds all the time before a Maths exam, how can he expect to handle logarithms on the test? We have never – not just now, but never ever – produced a bowler like Steyn who can swing the ball late at 145kph. Can we blame our batsmen if the Math analogy is correct? Especially when two of our batsmen are debutants and one is playing his fourth test. Or is it our system that we must blame? Do we organize enough A tours for people on the periphery of the Indian team to have an experience of such hostile pace bowling?

    3. Our bowling – with the exception of Zaheer – resembles a pea-shooter when pitted against the SA bazooka. Ian Chappell was right in saying that (1) we cannot take 20 wickets and (2) historically, all champion teams have had 2 exceptional bowlers.

    4. Not to pile on to the poor guy, but WTF was Wriddhiman Saha doing in the squad?

    • Good post! I will attempt to answer your questions to the best of my abilities since you have not addressed it to Prem/anyone in particular.

      1. I had asked the same question to a coach once and his advice was to play the ball as late as possible. You have to be quick in picking the initial line and the length of the delivery but you should also wait until the ball starts to swing just before it lands to commit yourself to the stroke.

      2. Only a handful of bowlers in the world have the ability to bowl reverse-swing and at the moment no one bowls it better or at greater-pace than Steyn. I doubt if the A-teams of any country will have bowlers of this quality. Consider Morkel, he is fast and accurate but was mostly ineffective after the ball lost it’s shine.

      3. More reason for us to produce helpful tracks to assist our pace bowlers. We may never produce bowlers who bowl at 145 consistently but the current lot of pace bowlers can pick up 20 wickets if we give them a wicket that has pace and bounce. We always take pride in the quality of our batsmen so why not bank on them to score a little better than the opposition on a lively pitch?

      4. The selectors picked Buddhiman Baba to teach Dinesh Karthik a lesson. They ended up learning one themselves.

      • Sriram, coming to point 1, the simple answer is that a batsman simply cannot play such deliveries. The element of luck differentiates between who nicks and who does not. In fact, Sunil Gavaskar once said that a batsman has to be in the best of his forms to nick it to the keeper! I watched the replays a hundred times, and I don’t have an answer on how Sachin should have played that ball. Reminds me of two unforgettable dismissals from my childhood:

        1. 1983 World Cup final – Sunil Gavaskar gets one from Andy Roberts that he nicks it to Dujon

        2. 1983 Test at Ahmedabad – once again it is the great little master SG, and the bowler was Micheal Holding. And, Gavaskar was batting at 90 at that point, and to have him caught behind at that stage was unbelievable. If I remember right, it was then only the second time that Gavaskar had gotten out in his 90s.

        • You mean to say batsmen cannot play late swing at all or only the ones that are perfectly bowled? I agree a perfectly bowled delivery will get the best among batsmen out but there should be a method to handle late-swing.

        • It looked to me that Sachin’s foot movement was not great…cant figure out if it was less movement or slow movement…or may be the ball was too fast…if he was exactly in position, the edge might have happened, but it would have dropped short of reaching the slip.

  7. very well said….i’m sure the BCCI is kicking itself now for shoe-horning the series…we are well on our way to losing the top ranking…but it doesnt matter….a side with two debutants and another player just 3 tests old, faced off with the best pace attack in the world….and it will stand them in good stead in the future…particularly badri and vijay in the 2nd innings showed they have the mental strength…its just bad luck that we lost dravid and laxman, and coupled to that, a toothless bowling attack…..we still have vast strides to make, if we are to become a consistent top ranker…….

  8. When Sachin was captain about this time in 2000, Hansie Cronje’s team with Boje as spinner managed to beat India easily in first and comprehensively in second. Visiting sides struggled here without decent spin but RSA managed it using mainly the pace attack. Today the first three and last six partnerships were terminated by pace. Remember Aus in Nagpur on a green top when they managed to do what RSA did in 2000? Even if we had played our best batsmen, we might have been in the same position. Our team is better so we may be able to take it to day 5 and if supported by a spinning
    track similar to last series, still salvage 1-1 to retain current ranking. Ability to bowl above 140k consistently and also face such attack on domestic games will perhaps take another decade. Courtesy John Wright we did improve since that 2-0 loss against RSA and also managed to beat Aus in Perth ( though it was not the pitch it used to be ). So in ten more years we will be better and come Feb 2020, we will be in a good position to face the pace.

  9. In the long term, it is our bowling which is going to cost us more than our batting. I believe it was a 400-450 run first innings pitch. But our bowlers allowed 550. Thats the problem.

    When we have VS/GG/RD/SRT/VVS/Dhoni in the lineup (usually two or three of them will cover the failure of the others), we can afford to give away 100 runs extra. But when they are not available ( 2 years down the line, thats what is going to happen), the bowlers should at least be able to match the performance of the opposing bowlers. I do not see that happening with the current lot.

  10. Will agree with Manish worma here. India has certainly earned the top position. However, the top position has been achieved with Kumble bowling in tandem with Harbhajan, and Zaheer having stellar backup at various times with Irfan’s good streak, then Sreesanth’s, and then Ishant’s. Sehwag and the big 4 have been immense, and Dhoni was the Gilchrist India was looking for…
    It took a long time to topple Australia’s once in a generation squad (and only after part of it was dismantled), and what has really been India’s golden generation, eventually got there. Will they stay there the way Australia, or West Indies before them, had done? I seriously doubt it. The end of the days of our golden generation are drawing near, and I doubt we have the bench strength to just supplement these guys. How can you supplement Sachin? Kumble? Dravid? Sehwag? Laxman? Ganguly (the captain more than the batsman)?

    Look, the notion of the ‘no.1 team in the world’ has been disrupted by the two subsequent incredible generations, those of the West Indies and Australia. Such a domination of world cricket would require such an incredible cricketing generation to appera again. Is anybody there yet? I’d say not by a long shot… the no 1 position will change hands quite a bit in the next few years. Only fair.

  11. Manish, completely agree with you. The batting line up for this test is not even our 2nd best choice!! Rohit (or even Kaif)/ Virat /Pandey would have done better job in place of Saha.

  12. What we need is genuine pace bowlers. Zaheer is ok but there is no one in India who can go consistently at 140-145…!!
    and less said about spinners, better it is. Harbhajan is preparing for IPL already.

  13. Prem

    I thought you got lost in the long-term memory loss. We didnt not play too much against Bangladesh or SL in tests(actually, we lost against SL). We have done well in SA(away), Aus(Home), NL(Away).

    Lets put things in perspective. India are without Dravid and Lax, who are no less in taking India to No1. Also, SA has the toughest pace attack at the moment. Besides, India is not a great starter in any tough series usually. A collapse happened. It happens (eventhough what the Indian lower order did was utter crap). Let see how it goes in the next three innings in this series.

    Remember one thing: we are not No1 by a long distance. We are very close to No2 and No3. So, it might as well mean that we may be anywhere between No1 and No3.

    Overall, collapsing one time against SA with three very untested batsmen in the lineup is not an earthquake.

  14. Prem,
    Agree with most of your points regarding where we stand as a test team now. However, we must not forget that we are playing with a second string batting lineup. Not having Dravid & Laxman against probably the best fast bowling pair in the world is no joke. Agreed that even with those 2 playing, the result might have been the same. However, when you have Saha replacing those guys, this is bound to happen. But, we don’t have any excuses for the bowling display. As Ian Chappell said, we can never be the real No.1 team, without an attack which can take 20 wkts.


    • Jll- What were you expecting from this Indian lineup after the day 2? Swap Laxman for W Saha (pathetic, useless, cr*p, etc No. 9) and you are left with a potentially great batting team even without Dravid (as per replacement plans, on my reading). Surely, the batting should have done much better – agreed?

      These batting transformations, of course had to be forced down the throats of the team management – Saha was the unfortunate side-effect. However, you must try to understand: the bowling has not been TRANSFORMED. Clearly that decision can be made either now (after this inexcusable display) or later when India loses 2-0. The likely candidates are there: Mithus, Ojha, Sreesanth & Tyagi. Apparently no other spinner qualifies on bare-cupboard grounds (hard luck Ashwin and Chawla, as per Board XI), and no other pace bowler can bowl at over 130kmph (except Gony? Vinnay Kumar?). What should the changes be & when?

      My reading is that: 2 replacements can be made straight away (Mithus – Ishant and Ojha- Mishra). Now if Sreesanth is fit would you want to go back to 2 spinner theory. That’s my take. I love to know others view. Cheers.

      • Aravind,
        Assuming Saha was an accident, let’s just focus on the bowling. I would definitely give Ishant a break from international cricket and blood Mithun straightaway for the 2nd test. Bhajji has to go (unless he does a miracle in the 2nd innings, if we have one). I would go with Ojha & Mishra with this being the last chance for Mishra.

    • JII: What did you expect the batting to have done after day 2? This batting is surely has 5 great batsmen (as per selectors replacement plans) and ought to have done better, don’t you think? Now, the bowling has not been transformed and thus still carries spare bagage. As per seletors (fast bowlers and quality spinners) there are only following options: Mithus, Ojha, Sreesanth and Tyagi. (Ashwin, Vinnay, Gony and Chawla did feature in Board XI). My reading is: Mithus for Ishant and Ojha for Mishra. Then we can wait ’till Sreesanth gets fit and then decide.

  15. Your post gives the impression that we got to the top beating mostly BD and SL!!!!!!

    We got to top rank during SL series (before BD series had even started)…and our past few series had been NZ, SL, Aus, SA, Aus, Eng, SA.

    We hadn’t even played BD for a long time. And even SL was a tough one (we actually lost that series…and not many teams have gone there and won!)

    I don’t see any reason for you to pull us down. By this measure, look at the comprehensive defeat that SA were handed in 2nd test against Eng.

    Or look at the home series loss that both SA and Aus had against each other.

    Point being. We are amongst the best. And rightly so. Doesn’t mean we cannot be beaten by other sides, esp the other two top sides. (although its been 6 tests since an Aus side beat us!!!!!!!)

    And one more thing. This India batting lineup was the equivalent of removing Kallis, AB/Amla and JP from SA lineup. So, if we still manage to fight (and there is still life left in this game) I would not be too disturbed.

    Only negative in this game so far, for me, has been Gambhir. He should have done better at least in one innings, given his recent test form.

    • Exactly!!
      our bowlers are not in form that is welknown but takeout kalis/AB from SA line and see how their batting fare even against curent Ind Bowling.
      I guess we trying to eliminate batting collapses being #1 which i think asking for too much

  16. Decent enough start by vijay/SRT in the second. But they should not have tried to go into shell towards the end.

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