On Saturday morning, many Indian fans took the liberty to dream. We dreamt about nightwatchman Jasprit Bumrah scoring a fifty; about Cheteshwar Pujara stonewalling the Australian attack; about Virat Kohli scoring a century before returning home; about a lead in the region of 300 runs; about victory in the first Test at Adelaide.
The BCCI Twitter handle shared a video of Mayank Agarwal and Bumrah having a knock. Some drives mixed up with some delectable front foot defence. All seemed good. All seemed calm. India were ahead in the game and at the start of day three, in a position to make their advantage count.
Even when Bumrah fell early, the fans didn’t blink. He had done his job and played out the tricky session last night to shield Cheteshwar Pujara. Now, it was time for the proper batsmen to do their job.
Then a cruel jolt of reality woke everyone up from their reverie as 15/2 became 15/3, then 15/4 and finally 15/5.
Pujara, Agarwal and Ajinkya Rahane followed Bumrah into the dressing room in quick time. Four runs later, Virat Kohli joined them there. At some point, one thought it would stop. Maybe the tail would put together 10 runs... maybe 20 and stop the rot.
That didn’t happen though. 19/6 became 26/7 which in turn became 26/8 on a pitch that seemed fine for batting. The last hope Hanuma Vihari walked back with the score on 31 and then as if to add injury to insult, Shami was hit on the arm by a bouncer from Pat Cummins and forced to retire hurt.
India’s day, which started with great hope, ended on 36/9 – their lowest total in Test cricket.
The Australians bowled well but in Kohli’s words, there was ‘nothing drastic.’
“There were some good balls, but nothing drastic,” said Kohli. “Just that an atmosphere was created where runs were difficult to get. It was a combination of lack of intent, and bowlers bowling well.”
In fact, many will argue that 36/9 is an aberration. And they are right. But the process that got India to this point isn’t. Despite everything Kohli and Ravi Shastri will tell you, India’s ‘away’ game isn’t strong. It only looks that way because of their bowling. But if you look at the batting in isolation, the struggle is clearly apparent.
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India in SENA countries (last 5 years)
Take just a cursory look at India’s batting statistics in the SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) and it clear that there is a problem. A deeper dive – over a period of five years as seen in the table above – shows that the batsmen have simply not got going.
And even though we’ve known about this for a while, the batsmen just haven’t been able to find a comfort zone and neither have they attempted to find a remedy. They almost seem to be itching to give their wickets away. Having just two ‘proper’ batsmen averaging over 40 means you are going to lose a lot more than you will win.
To give you an idea of how the batting is failing, compare the current generation to India between 2000 and 2010:
India in SENA (Jan 1 2000-Dec 31 2010)
As Sanjay Manjrekar pointed out on Twitter and during the broadcast on Sony, India’s lack of defensive technique is hurting them.
“Here’s India’s totals in last three Tests (two in New Zealand) when the ball has moved around - 165, 191, 242, 124, 244, 36. Clearly India needs to improve its defensive skills,” Manjrekar said.
The problem, though, is not just the technique. It is the mentality. There is a time to defend and there is a time to play shots. India’s batsmen clearly don’t know the difference.
After the game, skipper Kohli, not for the first time in his career, highlighted the lack of intent being a problem. Well, showing intent at the wrong time is the bigger problem.
One can always go back to Tendulkar’s magnificent 241* at Sydney when he simply cut out some strokes because he felt he kept getting out because of them. Does anyone in this team even think along those lines? Are they thinking of how they get out or are they only thinking about the next four or six?
India’s last 36 results in Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand - most recent first:
L, L, L, D, W, L, W, L, L, W, L, L, W, L, L, D, D, L, L, L, L, L, W, D, D, L, L, D, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L
5 wins, 6 draws, 25 losses
No one is saying India needs to adopt a ‘safety first’ approach but at some point, you’ve got to know when to pull down the shutter. You can’t have 25 losses in 36 matches and insist you are a top team. You also can’t hide behind the excuse that the other teams are bad travellers too when you keep talking about how you don’t look at the opposition and focus on your own processes.
If Australia were bowling well – and there will be periods in every Test match where the opposition will bowl well – were the Indian batsmen trying their best to stay there?
“We’ve played enough cricket to understand what needs to be done at different stages in a Test match,” said Kohli. “It’s just lack of execution. The lack of executing a plan that is called ‘Day 3 – Move the game forward’. We needed to drive home the advantage. There is no mental fatigue involved – it is only the first Test of the series.”
He further added: “You can make a plan for a team but at an individual level, each person has to have the right mindset when they step onto the ground. They need to have their own plan. Whenever we have batted well; whenever I have batted well, I have had my own plan too... whether I want to attack or play solidly. You can have team plans but it is these individual plans that take the game forward towards victory.”
One wicket led to another and before the Indian batsmen knew it – they were deer... caught in the headlights, not knowing which way to run. In the end, panic set in and they simply jumped off the edge. This 36/9 is going to haunt the team for a while. There will be no forgetting it but sport always gives you a chance at redemption... only if you really want it.
The Indian cricket fan, on the other hand, will have started to dream again. Maybe this reality wasn’t real. Maybe it was just a nightmare. Maybe we’ll just wake up with day three about to begin. For on this day, the dreams were happy, the reality was anything but.