What do you do when you fall into your own trap? What do you do when your own weapon turns on you instead of on your opponent? That's precisely the question Virat Kohli and Co must be asking themselves, having been handed a hiding that they would not have imagined in their worst nightmares. India's much vaunted batting line-up could just about manage 100 runs in either innings in the first Test of the series against Australia, and were annihilated by 333 runs. Such was the enormity of the defeat, in terms of the margin, and more importantly, the manner in which it was accomplished, that it can be called numbing. The fact that it happened in India's own backyard makes it all the more difficult to accept.
A course towards redressal after such a massive debacle has to then start with owning up to one's failure, acknowledging your shortcomings and drawing up a plan to tackle them head on, and not remotely by blaming the playing conditions.
Captain Kohli was honest to have accepted that it was India's "worst batting display in the last two years", and also that it was a "reality check" for a side that had almost forgotten what defeat was. India, on a 19-Test unbeaten run till the Pune Test, might have taken things for granted a bit.
"If Australia play well, India will win 3-0. That is if Australia play well. Otherwise, 4-0," said former India spinner Harbhajan Singh. Even Harbhajan's one-time captain in the Indian team, Sourav Ganguly, refused to give the visitors much of a chance. "I won't be surprised if India wins 4-0," Ganguly said.
The irrepressible form of Kohli's team in the home season over the New Zealand, England and Bangladesh series had almost made it a certainty that it would be a walkover against Australia. The whitewash that Australia suffered the last time they toured this neck of the woods added to the bullish sentiment in favour of the hosts. It would be surprising if, it even for a wee bit, didn't make the Indian team smug. On top of it they had a 'designer' pitch in Pune, tailor-made for the Indian spinners to finish the match inside three days.
The match did finish inside three days, but there was a minor alteration to the script, but one that had massive repercussions. The Indian spinners turned the ball a bit too much and their batsmen played for the turn that was not there, and in the end the pitch proved to be a riddle for the home side, when it was expected to be the Australians' graveyard. The visitors' left-arm orthodox spinner Stephen O'Keefe turned into an instant star with match figures of 12/70 against a team that arguably plays spin the best. The fact of the matter however was O'Keefe and his spin twin Nathan Lyon got most of their wickets with minimal turn, and indeed with balls that went straight through. Kohli's dismissal in the second innings being a case in point.
Where India came up short was in their reading of the pitch, confusing it as a 'rank turner' when it actually was not. For once, the ability to extract prodigious turn off the surface worked to spinners' disadvantage as Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja kept probing away and beating the edges. The Indian batsmen, on the other hand, were undone not by turn, but by a lack of it. O'Keefe, in particular, focused on the channel between middle and off and bowled a full length, getting maximum purchase from the wicket.
Clearly, Australia knew how to make better use of difficult playing conditions. If O'Keefe and Lyon bowled the ideal line and length and extracted the optimal turn, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood bowled with a lot of intent and aggression in the first innings, mixing things up pretty well. Then when it was the Australia's turn to bat, Steve Smith showed exactly how it can to be done, striking a century in the second innings that was loaded with character. He conscientiously played inside the line of the ball and attacked only when the ball was in his striking range, employing the sweep to good effect. It is here then that the Australians stole a march on the hosts.
While the Pune pitch was rated as 'poor' by the match referee, it is a rating which is difficult to agree with, you feel. It was clearly not unplayable, there were no alarming inconsistency in the bounce, nor did it turn square. It was simply a match in which one team made use of the conditions way better than the other.
What do the Indians need to do then to stage a comeback? In Bengaluru, the wicket is expected to be different. Once bitten twice shy, India may not want to opt for a pitch like the one at Pune again that turns from the word go. Instead, it is expected to be one that is good to bat on in the first couple before starting to break up.
It goes without saying that the Indians need to read the pitch better. But more than anything else what they need is to show a lot more application. The way some of the Indian batsmen just threw their wickets away in Pune was atrocious to say the least.
KL Rahul, who has had to fight inconsistency and fitness issues, had a golden opportunity to make a statement in the first innings, which would have made twice the impact, having been accomplished on a spiteful pitch as the one in Pune. He had made his way to a solid 64 and India were in a position of relative ease at 94/3. But he suddenly had a brain fade, holing out to Warner in the deep. It triggered a collapse and India were skittled out for 105, losing seven wickets for 11 runs - their worst ever seven-wicket collapse in Tests. The way Jadeja also handed his wicket to the opposition when he had to try and accumulate as many runs as possible made it look all the more ugly.
The Indians need also to apply themselves better on the field. The 'lives' the Smith was afforded allowed the Australian captain to saunter to a century. If India's profligacy on the field is compared to the catches that Peter Handscomb took for instance, you would not have to search too hard why the Indians ended up flat on their backs. India should know that to compete with a top quality international side like Australia on even keel, you have to put your best foot forward, in all aspects of the game.
Also India need to utilise their reviews better. "Definitely, it (DRS usage) is not going our way. We got to take little more time I guess. We got to use those 15 seconds much better," said Vijay, who himself was culpable of going for a frivolous review. India, as expected, was hurt by their wastefulness regarding the use of DRS, as Jadeja and Umesh Yadav were denied genuine wickets with no review left. Kohli, one thought, depended too much on the advice of his teammates while taking decisions to use the DRS while fielding. That is perhaps where he needs to stamp himself as the captain and not go upstairs at every opportunity.
Kohli also showed a touch of desperation when things were not going for him. He, one thought, held back Umesh for a bit too long in Australia's second innings, bowling his spinners instead. It wasn't a great move considering that Umesh was the pick of the Indian bowlers in the first innings with four wickets.
The team composition could also be tweaked a bit. They might look to go in with a six batsmen-four bowler combination to strengthen their batting further. Maybe go in with Karun Nair in place of Jayant Yadav and replace Ishant Sharma with Bhuvneshwar Kumar who has performed as and when he has been given an opportunity.
The Indian openers would also want to come good together, something they have hardly done over an otherwise extremely successful period of two years or so.
At the end of the day, you can just offer prescriptions, but it is the team that has to go and get the job done in the middle. The Australians have shown that they are not going to be pushovers and are here to compete hard. One hopes to see the Indians to come out in Bengaluru with renewed vigour. A jolt like the one in Pune has infused the Indian home season with the 'life' that it was lacking and shook Kohli's team out of its slumber.
India's win percentage of 28.57 at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru is the least among all the grounds at which India have played at least 20 Tests. So Kohli and Co would certainly have their task cut out.
All the Australians need to do is to carry on the good work. O'Keefe, Smith and indeed Mitchell Starc may have hogged all the limelight in Pune, but can we forget the catches Handscomb took, or the support Hazlewood, Lyon and Mitchell Marsh provided? The biggest asset for the visitors in Pune was that they performed as a team. While Starc and Hazlewood showed the important role pacers can play on subcontinent wickets, O'Keefe and Lyon has announced that they are better than a Gavin Robertson, Jason Krejza or Nathan Hauritz.
The series, as Sachin Tendulkar said, is "still wide open" and India need to get their house in order to prove their credentials as the No 1 Test team in the world. Another loss, let alone a rout, would put it in serious jeopardy.
Published Date: Mar 03, 2017 04:54 pm | Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 04:57 pm