There are no demons jumping out of Australia’s pitches these days – remember the reputation of Perth of yesteryear? - and no bowler hurling the cricket ball at a mind-numbing speed. Indian top order is at ease with the batting conditions and scoring freely, yet we manage to lose game after game. So what’s wrong? We never read our victories or defeats right, thus get our game plan in a tangle.
At Canberra today, Australian batsmen showed where we have been going consistently wrong. They put up 348 on board, a daunting target by any standards. India put up a spirited chase before getting into by now familiar last-mile troubles and finished 25 runs short. A target of 320 would certainly have seen Australia on the losing side.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni would love to blame the bowlers for their below-par performance, and that appears to be the wisdom going around in the expert circles, but the reality is, it’s the batsmen who are losing us matches, not bowlers. There’s not just enough run on the board to test the opposition, whose home advantage has been neutralised by flat, placid wickets.
Dhoni has, more than once, blamed the bowlers for their inability to defend targets in excess of 300. He has also mentioned that there’s not enough talent on the bench to allow him to experiment with new bowling combinations. “Looking at our bowlers, we need to score 330 or more,” he said recently.
He appears justified in his point when you look at the scores in the first three matches of the series: 308, 309 and 295. All three targets were chased down by the Aussies without much sweat. Yes, the Indian bowling has not been impressive but lack of talent in the bowling department has always been a problem, hasn’t it? Shouldn’t the team be prepared for that?
Now, are 308, 309 and 295 are really big scores as Dhoni would like to believe? Not really. Given the changes in the field restrictions, 300 is the new 250. On wickets hospitable to batsmen – pitches are getting flatter worldwide either due to the pressure on countries to make matches high-scoring to keep the audience interest going or due to climatic factors - it’s no big target. If your batsmen can hit much superior bowlers in the opposition for that many runs, then common sense should tell you that your bowlers would be much easier to handle and you need to put up a much larger score to chase.
Dhoni feels 330 is a defendable total. Australia’s total today showed that you need at least ten more to make a good match of it. And that’s the target India should be eyeing every time they come out to bat on lifeless wickets. Once they read the nature of the pitch, the batters can keep revising their short-term targets.
It’s astounding that the team strategists have not applied themselves to this solution so far. Shifting the blame on the bowlers won’t just work anymore. This loss is a shame. and they cannot take it casually.