Flat, batting-friendly tracks in the ongoing India vs Australia ODI series are making a mockery of cricket as a contest
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s weary bunch now head to Sydney for the final one-dayer on Saturday. The Sydney Cricket Ground has traditionally smiled on spinners, but one can’t bet on this. Some of the wickets rolled out this Australian summer have been shameful belters.
The Aussies have been proud traditionalists, often boasting that pitches are different across their vast country. Judging from what we’ve seen in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra yesterday, they can’t say that anymore. Like other countries, one-day cricket pitches are designed to see the bat dominating the ball.
Aaron Finch of Australia celebrates scoring a century during the Victoria Bitter one-day International match between Australia and India yesterday in Canberra. Pic/Getty Images
As one pundit opined recently, if the public have to be fed only runs, then the authorities should replace the bowlers with a bowling machine and let fours and sixes reign. The contest has been taken out of the game and the International Cricket Council (ICC) is doing nothing about it. Toothless, the ICC have been for a while now! The other day, while speaking to Financial Times (UK) about India’s power in the ruling of the game, former batting stylist and England captain, David Gower came up with a splendid view. "The governance of the game is still dubious. Let alone flex a muscle, I would love the ICC to just grow a muscle," said Gower.
All said and done, the chilling fact is that India’s two victories on the current tour of Australia came in warm-up games. One can’t think of a one-day cricket series played by India in Australia where the win column has looked so depressingly blank. Save Sachin Tendulkar’s 1999-2000 tourists, no other Indian team lost their first four games in a one-day competition in Australia.
The ongoing five-match series is as lopsided as lopsided can be for India with five centuries in four games, but nothing to show in terms of wins. Rohit Sharma’s two consecutive tons which ended up being in vain, at Perth and Brisbane, nearly reminded us of the days when Sachin Tendulkar was the solitary reaper in Indian one-day teams in the second half of the 1990s.
It’s also a tour where Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s midas touch has taken a beating. In better days, he would get away blooding two debutants (Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh) in one game, but to do that in a crunch tie against the best side in the world, was astounding. That he dropped his premier spinner (Ravichandran Ashwin) added to the bizarreness of it all. Dhoni reasoned that Ravindra Jadeja could not be dropped while he played Gurkeerat and Rishi Dhawan because that would weaken the batting. Skipper knows best, but aren’t Ashwin’s batting abilities being undermined a bit here?
It’s easy to get smart after the event, in this case, post a thumping series loss, but India may have been better off with wrist spinner Amit Mishra in their ranks. He didn’t have a great ODI series against South Africa at home but in the Test series, which followed the one-dayers, he outwitted some big-named batters like AB de Villiers (twice), Hashim Amla and JP Duminy. It does appear that Mishra doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the team bosses just like they feel about Ashwin, who to his credit, performed exceedingly well in the home series against South Africa.
To be truly hailed as the best in business, Ashwin needs to improve his overseas record. He also has to walk the talk because he was the most vocal of all Indian players when it came to defending the turning tracks that were dished out to the visiting South Africans late last year. It’s not uncommon for bowlers to experience tough times after a high just like what the off-spinner is experiencing, but Ashwin’s utterances during the India vs South Africa series had a ring of arrogance to it.
While Rohit and Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan (in the Canberra game), were imperious, the supporting cast didn’t contribute enough to out-bat the world champions. Shikhar Dhawan got 68 off 91 balls at Melbourne, but the manner in which he got out - shuffling across and getting bowled by John Hastings - indicated that he threw all his hard work away. That partnership with a flowing Kohli at the end could well have been a match-winning one.
And what does one say about India’s bowling? At the moment, it is bleeding. Sundries must be treated as a bigger cricketing sin than mere poor bowling and you don’t need bowling coaches to stress fundamental points like these. It is baffling that despite having the best machinery to help them be accurate (bowling coaches, video analysis etc), present-day bowlers still give away far too many extra runs.
This is where past masters like West Indian great Andy Roberts sound so right when they say bowlers should be seen working more on their skills than pumping iron in gymnasiums. For Roberts, bowling a no-ball is the biggest crime a fast bowler can commit. Talking about crime, a thorough post mortem needs to be done by the powers that be about India’s recent one-day form.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org