India vs Australia: While problems chase India, India have a problem chasing

  • Jigar Mehta
  • December 25th, 2018
  • 18:09:46 IST

Cricketing memories are made of special moments and special moments are conjured via special performances.

Rahul Dravid punching the air and kissing the crest on the cap in elation after smashing Stuart MacGill through covers on that sunny fifth morning in Adelaide in 2003. Yuvraj Singh lifting Sachin Tendulkar in the middle of the pitch on that sultry afternoon in Chepauk Cauldron to bring smiles to a mourning country recuperating from terror attacks. Pragyan Ojha setting off in wild celebrations and embracing an almost motionless VVS Laxman, fighting back spasms, roaring in delight on that tense afternoon in Mohali in 2010. Harbhajan Singh guiding Glenn McGrath through point and scampering through to hug a 'down on knees' Sameer Dhige in disbelief mid-pitch 17 years ago on that special evening in Chennai.

Virat Kohli has averaged just 26.50 in fourth innings of Tests this year. AP

Virat Kohli has averaged just 26.50 in fourth innings of Tests this year. AP

These are some of the fond memories that will be locked in Indian fans’ archives for eternity. There have been more. These were famous and defining wins and what made them more special was the way they were achieved - tricky chases in tough conditions on the fourth or fifth day wearing pitches, sometimes in dire circumstances. These chases often underlined the character of the team.

While such kind of chases have been few and far between in the history of Indian cricket, they have been almost non-existent altogether of late.

"In my eyes, our team is capable of chasing any total but we will try to minimise (the target) as much as possible."

Was it just Jasprit Bumrah's lack of knowledge about his team's poor record while chasing or uber positivity, we don't know. But his words after the third day's play of the second Test, with Australia already 176 ahead and six wickets in hand on an unpredictable Perth, did spring a surprise.

Unsurprisingly, India lost the Test by 146 runs. It was their sixth loss in seven matches while chasing this year. No team has lost more than four Tests in a calendar year while chasing. India have won just once — against West Indies in Hyderabad where they had to chase down just 72 runs.

While myriad problems chase India, Virat Kohli and Co have a problem chasing. It's not just this year, these fourth innings struggles have been constantly poking them in the eye. India haven't chased down a target of 150 or more set by the opposition in more than five years. The last time they won an away match chasing was eight years back when Laxman defied back spasms to chase down 257 from 62/4 on a tricky SSC, Colombo pitch.

It's not just the defeats, it's the manner of defeats that have been more concerning. Every time they chase, they look as vulnerable as a family of hedgehogs crossing a motorway. There has been hardly a semblance of fight. In these six losses chasing this year, they have recorded a 200-plus total just once. The margin of defeats read – lost by: 72 (Target 208), 135 (287), 31 (194), 60 (245), 118 (464), 146 (287) runs.

Under Kohli, India have lost 9 Tests while chasing, the joint-most with MAK Pataudi. They have drawn two and won just two in 13 matches while chasing.

So what has gone wrong? It's a combination of various things. The batsmen have been found wanting with their techniques, there has been poor shot selection and somewhere down the line, they have not been able to handle the pressure of chasing targets.

In the last four years, since Kohli took over the captaincy, India have averaged 22.42 runs per wicket in the fourth innings. Only South African batsmen have been worse (18.54) for teams who have chased in more than 10 Tests. There have been just 11 fifty-plus scores for India, again second worse to South Africa.

The lack of application is palpable. In the last four years, Indian batsmen have faced the least number of average deliveries per wicket per innings batting last - 36, West Indies have faced the most with 46. India have averaged a mediocre 22.42 average partnership per dismissal with just 11 fifty-plus stands and only Zimbabwe (7), Bangladesh (9)  and South Africa (10) have had fewer.

Among the Indian teams of yore, MS Dhoni had the best record as a captain while chasing 150-plus targets. In 18 matches Dhoni's men chased down the target 7 times, drew six and lost five and still possesses the best Win-Loss ratio for targets over 150 - 1.4. Ganguly came close with 1.25 having won 5, lost 4 and drawn 4 from 13 matches in which India have chased under him.

Both Dhoni and Ganguly had formidable and balanced batting line-ups. One of the crucial components required while chasing is a solid opening stand.

Overall, under Dhoni and Ganguly combined, the opening pair averaged 36.55.

The two captains had Gambhir and Sehwag. The pair averaged 58.40 in fourth innings with one century and five 50 plus stands under Dhoni and Ganguly combined. Overall, the pair had the second-best average for opening partnership for India at 51.16 behind Chetan Chauhan and Sunil Gavaskar 71.71 (For pairs to have batted five innings or more). They averaged 56.20 in successful chases. Not just that, with Sehwag around, they could score at a brisk pace and soften up the new ball. Also, there was very little chopping and changing at the top.

It was Sehwag's 68-ball 87 blitz in that Chennai Test against England that changed the dynamics of the match as India chased down their highest total in Asia - 387 - 10 years ago.

In case if one of the openers failed, Dhoni and Ganguly had Rahul Dravid (52.82) and Sachin Tendulkar (49.11) to stabilise. And then there was Laxman (54.33) who would finish off matches. The Hyderabad batsman was a vital cog who had mastered the art of chasing while shepherding the tail. He averaged a staggering 99 (under Dhoni and Ganguly combined), 100.50 overall in fourth innings in successful chases.

Under Kohli, India's opening stand has averaged just 19.41 in the fourth innings. And there have been six combinations utilised batting last. Overall, there have been 11 combinations used in his captaincy so far. It tells a lot about the stability up the order. Among the six pairs, the Vijay-Dhawan combo has possessed the best average batting last - 21.66. In the last four years, the Indian opening pair has survived an average of just six overs per innings batting fourth, only South African openers have done worse with 5 overs. Australia's opening stands have faced most overs at an average, 12.

The middle order is over-dependent on Kohli, who himself surprisingly hasn't had the best time this year averaging 26.50 with just two fifties from six innings batting last. Overall, since taking over the captaincy, he has averaged 41.70 with one ton and two fifties. No other batsman who has batted more than five innings batting last has averaged more than 30.

The number six conundrum is yet to be solved and Rishabh Pant is a work in progress. The Delhi boy needs to take up more responsibility and play the role that his idol Adam Gilchrist played for Australia.

One can argue that Dhoni was successful chasing just at home (six out of seven have come at home). But his teams have chased down targets on fourth-fifth days on tricky pitches under tumultuous conditions. With Dhoni in charge, India chased down a target of over 200 six times. One over 300 (387), three over 250 (276, 262, 258) and two between 200-250 (216, 207).

Under Kohli, India have batted twice in the fourth innings chasing more than 150 at home, one ended in a draw and one was lost. Playing away, chasing more than 150, he has lost 8 out of 9 matches and drew 1.

At home, in the matches that they have won chasing, both targets were well within reach - 72 and 103.

Now, toss comes into the picture. Factor this, all the nine losses while chasing have come in matches where Kohli has lost the toss.

In the 44 matches in charge, Kohli has won the toss 20 times, he has batted first in 19 of those, won 17 and drew 2.

Of the 24 tosses he has lost, he has fielded first in 19 matches out of which he has won 5, lost 9 and drew 5. The wins have all come at home. And out of the 5 wins, three have been by an innings which means they haven't batted in the last innings in these matches, thanks to the fire-breathing spinners and in the other two matches where they have batted, they have had to chase targets of 72 and 103 as mentioned earlier.

The one match in which Kohli won the toss and fielded first was against South Africa in 2015 which ended in a draw after being marred by rain.

The fourth innings struggles might have been one of the catalysts behind the decisions at the tosses. It's evident Kohli doesn't like to bat last. However there will be days, when the toss won't go your way, consistently (just like in England), and that's when the character of this side will be really tested.

Four years ago, that masterful 141, chasing 364 at Adelaide on his captaincy debut instilled hope which has now turned into despair time and again in last few years.

When Kohli trudged back to the pavilion in the second innings at Perth, the result was a foregone conclusion or maybe even before, given their poor chasing record. As Bumrah tried to deposit Pat Cummins into the orbit, handing Australia a series-levelling win, he along with the team management must have suffered a brutal reality check. In order to sustain as the best in the world and win overseas, you have to be well rounded, like the Australia of the past. This Indian team desperately needs to learn the art of chasing. It's high time they turned from the hunted into hunters.

With stats inputs from Umang Pabari

Updated Date: December 25, 2018 18:09:46 IST

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