“Then put your little hand in mine. There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb.
Babe, I got you babe. I got you babe.”
Okay campers, rise and shine….
Don’t rule out Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Rohit Sharma waking up to this song in their hotel room on Saturday morning, because it sure must feel like Groundhog Day in the Indian camp.
Win the toss and choose to bat – check. Shikhar Dhawan throws his wicket away – check. Virat Kohli half-century - check. Another Rohit Sharma century – check. Set a target over 300 which has not been achieved in the ground before – check. Bowlers and fielders have a torrid time – check. George Bailey and Steve Smith take Australia to win – check.
From Dhoni’s point of view, it must be difficult to dissect and digest the second defeat in this five-match series as it was so eerily similar to the Perth ODI. Nonetheless, there were some talking points from the Brisbane match.
Shikhar Dhawan has got to go
When does backing a player of unquestionable talent through a lean patch go from being admirable to harmful? The answer, in Dhawan’s case, is yesterday. Sample Dhawan’s run of scores in ODIs since the Bangladesh series last year: 30, 53, 75, 23, 23, 13, 7, 60, 9, 6.
While his opening partner Rohit Sharma’s career is a case study on how to reap the benefits of backing a player to hilt, there is an inevitable sense that Dhawan has pushed his luck too far. Consider his dismissals in both the ODIs this series. In Perth he got stuck on the crease to a rising short ball and was too late to get the pull shot away, edging it to fine leg.
In Brisbane, he got stuck at the crease again with all his weight on the front foot as he looked to slash at a short ball outside off. Both were deliveries that he would have been better off playing off his back foot – a prerequisite for any batsman who wants to do well on Australian pitches.
It is alright to back a batsman who looks in good touch but is unable to convert that to substantial scores. But Dhawan is looking anything but in good touch. There is uncertainty in his footwork and worse of all, there seems to be a lack of game intelligence. He hasn’t become a bad batsman overnight but he is simply refusing to show signs of weathering this lean run of form.
With Ajinkya Rahane – a readymade solution for the opener’s slot – waiting in the wings and in great touch, persisting with Dhawan is proving to be harmful to the team, and is sending out the wrong message to the rest of the squad.
India’s effort on the field – a throwback to the 1990s
Over the past few years, India’s fielding in the shorter formats has come up leaps and bounds. This is a young side that can stake its claim to be one of the best fielding units in international cricket at the moment. But on Friday in Brisbane, memories of the late 90s came rushing back as chance after chance went abegging.
Shaun Marsh, who might as well have been a man in a cat’s body, was given numerous lives. Ishant Sharma put down a sitter at long on, Rahane couldn’t hold on to a tough one at first slip off Ashwin, Manish Pandey at first slip put down one off Ishant, and Brainder Sran couldn’t hold what would have been a stunner at fine leg.
Add to this some lax overthrows, misfields and the numerous run-out attempts – what was Ashwin thinking letting the ball go and not collecting it at the non-striker’s when Marsh took off for a non-existent single — and it looked kike a blast from the past.
The Indian fielders couldn’t have bought a direct hit even if it was being sold in the superstores in Brisbane as Australia kept rotating the strike when they were not busy finding gaps to the fence.
Like cricket expert Ayaz Memon said in the post-match chat with Firstpost, the Indian bowlers have showed no improvements in Brisbane. Except the first over from Ravindra Jadeja, where he beat Finch’s outside edge with some turn and bounce, both spinners were again nullified and the indiscipline of the fast bowlers didn’t help either.
But it is hard not to think that, with some backing from the fielders, the bowling performance would have looked much better than it ended up being.
Batting at the death
In the aftermath of the first match, Firstpost said that the prime reason for India’s defeat was the bowling and it would be revisionism at its best to say the batsmen fell short. Part of the reason for making that argument was that India made 66 runs in the last 33 balls and 93 in the last 60 in Perth – even if they were a few runs short, they finished the innings with the momentum unmistakably on their side.
Rohit Sharma had said before this match: “It is very important for the batsman who is set and batting well to carry on as long as possible because that is how you can stretch your target and get to a competitive score.”
That’s exactly what India did not manage to in Brisbane.
In an effort to accelerate from earlier than in Perth, India lost momentum in the last 10 and eventually paid for it. India managed 38 runs from the last five overs and lost five wickets in trying to push the score past 320. Not only did they not capitalize on the solid platform laid by Rohit and Rahane, the momentum was completely sucked out of the innings and heading into the break, Australia would have definitely fancied their chances. Momentum, though unquantifiable on a cricket ground, plays a vital role in deciding the outcome of a match.
Dhoni had this to say after the match: “In both the games we have given a fair amount of extras. That takes that number of runs off the total. On good wickets it does matter. I feel even if we cut down the extras we will have to score more runs. There are two options: either put pressure on [our] batsmen and score 330 or chase down the score, give them the batting first. These are the only two options we have got. We will have a look and decide what suits us the best."
That’s as plain an admission we have seen from India’s captain as any in the past, conceding the bowling attack is simply not good enough to defend targets less than 330. This is clearly a far cry from the bowling unit that kept skittling teams out during the World Cup last year.
Now, Dhoni has got just a day to fix what needs to be fixed before the must-win clash in Melbourne on Sunday or it’ll be yet another series defeat for the Indian captain on a list that is growing longer by the season.