Sydney Test: Top six batsmen must deliver for Team India
India's lower-order collapses shouldn't warrant any in-depth analysis. It happens with such monotonous regularity that the top six need to make 30% more to cover the deficit, writes Michael Jeh
Individually and collectively, will India's performance in Sydney show any degree of learning and adaptation? That they have lost the Border Gavaskar Trophy is predictable and yet unfortunate. But for a bit of naivety, fitness, a slice of luck and poor captaincy, the scoreline could easily read three nil to India.
Shikhar Dhawan is bowled by Ryan Harris on Day Three of the first Test against Australia in Adelaide last month. The India opener has scored 167 runs in three Tests @ 27.83. Pic/Getty Images
Think I'm being fanciful? Consider this then; had they won the toss in Adelaide and bowled last on that pitch, I'm not convinced Australia's fragile top order would have chased 300 on that pitch. Admittedly, India did everything possible to make things difficult for themselves.
Karn Sharma's selection weakened the batting crucially, especially if they intended bowling huge number of overs round the wicket, creating the perfect rough for Ravichandran Ashwin.
The lower-order batting collapses shouldn't warrant any in-depth analysis. It happens with such monotonous regularity that the top six need to make 30% more runs to cover the deficit, a situation not helped by the non-contribution of half the top-order.
If you could construct a hypothetical series where everything else remained equal and Australia's tail made exactly what India's last five scored, India would have won handsomely! Brisbane was one that definitely got away. The gods smiled on them, winning the toss in that heat, pushing the unfit Australian bowlers to the brink and then surrendering a 500+ total.
It might seem strange to blame Murali Vijay but this is where you have to play with the head and not the heart. Towards the end of his innings, it was obvious that he was fading fast. Why did the Indian think-tank not ask him to retire hurt and start afresh the next day?
Commentators speak in hushed tones about not wanting to break a partnership and get a new batsman in but what's worse? Sacrificing your wicket or returning the next day and continuing the innings? Vijay and a rampant MS Dhoni could have put that game out of reach on Day Two.
The meltdown in the bowling is not worth re-hashing. Suffice to say, whoever thought it was a good idea to rile Mitchell Johnson should immediately retire from Test cricket. Perhaps he already has!
What followed was pure theatre. Shikhar Dhawan's injury, the dressing room chaos that ensued, Johnson's brief brilliance and then Dhoni's brain fade with his shot to fall lbw for a duck. It didn't need another century to win that match, even from that position.
50 more runs and some thoughtful captaincy might just have been enough. What was Virat Kohli doing at second slip when he dropped Steve Smith? Dhawan had already pouched few good catches in that position. Careless. Lack of attention to detail.
Think I'm being harsh? Cast your mind to Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli in full flow, Aussie bowling in disarray and 600 up for grabs. All it needed was to rein themselves in and think big picture. As exciting as it was, Rahane swatting Johnson over midwicket suggested that both batsmen were more intent on a quick execution than death by suffocation.
Their complete dominance did not require shifting up the gears — they were scoring fast enough with two days to go and the prospect of a lead. If the game was slipping away from them, that period of high octane cricket late on Day Three might have been justified but the score was 400-3. I cannot imagine Rahul Dravid or SRT suddenly feeling the need to go even harder at that point. Imagine Dhoni coming in at 500-5 and flaying an exhausted attack. Different game.
Why not attack?
Late on Day Four and early on Day Five... if India were that keen to win the game, why did they not attack, attack, attack when Australia lost Haddin? If the runs came quickly, the declaration might have too. If they knocked over the tail, they might have been looking at 96 overs for 300 runs.
No upside to being defensive, two-nil down in the series and then expecting a gift declaration when you're not even prepared to show any intent by taking the new ball. Psychologically, that may have been the point at which Smith decided that he was going to bat India out of the game. Fair enough too. It takes two to tango.
Individually, what superlatives can you heap on Vijay, Kohli and Rahane that haven't already been said? Yes, there were times when they could have been more ruthless and less cavalier but to deny them the plaudits they so richly earned would be churlish. It wasn't just the runs they scored but the way they scored them.
Australia had no answer except to wait for a mistake. Unlike Smith though, when the mistakes came, they proved fatal. Self-inflicted wounds, most of them.
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer