Cracks in the
The series loss to Sri Lanka has exposed the frailty of the ageing Indian middle order. Abhijit Chatterjee looks at whether it is time to see beyond the ‘Fab Four’ in Test cricket as well
INDIA’S hopes of winning a series abroad, and thereby climbing up the ladder in the ICC Test standings, were dashed at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo when Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene hit the winning runs to take his team to an emphatic 2-1 series win. And with that India have lost five of their last 10 Tests against the world’s strongest sides, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. And, this Indian team was being touted as the best Test-playing squad in the world, after Australia, and probably capable of knocking off the Aussies from the top perch.
What went wrong? For one, the Board can be blamed for drawing up a faulty itinerary for the tour with only one practice game prior to the first Test, where India were crushed by an innings and 239 runs by a team with no pretensions and having no superstar, barring Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. This Indian team had been playing non-stop ODIs and T20 games for weeks together and were neither mentally nor physically prepared for the five-day game. The drawbacks were apparent in the first Test itself when India capitulated without the semblance of a fight with the batsmen struggling for runs and the bowlers being walloped all round the park. Does anybody remember when Anil Kumble was last hit for 121 runs in 37 overs without any reward?
Why does the BCCI never learn? Why was the team with an ageing middle order, who are not regular members of the ODI squad not given enough time to settle down and acclimatise themselves before a series?
The first Test in Sri Lanka was not an aberration. Even during the much tougher tour of Australia earlier, India had just one warm-up game before the hosts beat the visitors by nine wickets in the first Test at the MCG.
India did bounce back in the second game (as they nearly did in Australia), riding as they were on the double century of Virender Sehwag, who together with the other opener Gautam Gambhir showed some class and batting techniques right through the series. But in the third Test again the Indian middle order was ripped apart in both innings.
As the series progressed the Indian bowlers did improve marginally but the only bowler who could deliver something of substance was Harbhajan Singh with a haul of 16 wickets. Between them, Harbhajan Singh and skipper Anil Kumble took 24 wickets, two less than the haul of Sri Lanka’s new find Ajantha Mendis, who was playing in his first Test series. The Indian pace bowlers had their moments but the injury to Ishant Sharma in the decider was a blow from which India could never recover since the other speedsters simply did not have enough pace nor swing.
Two things really let India down. For one, India sorely missed Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps. Dhoni was probably right in opting to rest after the hectic schedule he has gone through in the year right up to the IPL. Both his replacements, Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel, who came into the playing eleven in the decider, were found wanting. They dropped more catches than they took, and between them scored just 50 runs in six innings. In any case the Indian fielding was much below par right through the series making the task of the off-colour bowlers all the more difficult as a number of catches which could have changed the course of the game went abegging.
More than the keeping it was the let down by the "Fab Four" of the Indian batting — Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman — which was the team’s undoing in the series. Together the four accounted for 554 runs in 24 innings, and this is a record the national selectors may keep in mind when finalising the squad with an eye on the future. The Indian batsmen made just one century (Sehwag’s 201 in the second Test) and seven half-centuries (four from the openers), and none from either Sourav Ganguly or Sachin Tendulkar, who now has the added problem of recovering from an old elbow injury which will keep him out of the one-day series in Sri Lanka.
While no one would like to
question the grit or determination of Ganguly or even the game fight he
waged to make a comeback, the selectors cannot refuse to face the hard
question given the fact that India have a lot of Test cricket coming up.
Even if fresh blood has to be groomed, it has to done gradually as the
"Fab Four" cannot be replaced all in one go.
Bindra on the mark
HATS off to Abhinav Bindra for finally bringing India a ‘golden’ moment in Beijing by securing 700.5 points in the 10 metre rifle event. What makes his feat even more special is the fact that this is India’s first individual gold medal in Olympic history. With his remarkable achievement India has got a Gold Medal after 28 years, as the last was in 1980 in Moscow by the men’s hockey team.
The entire country is in a festive mood and celebrating. The country is very proud of its illustrious sportsman. His ‘golden’ performance has brought pride not only to the country but to the city beautiful also, which has produced sportsmen of repute like the legendary Kapil Dev, under whose captaincy India had won the World Cricket Cup in 1983. The most touching comment on this win is from Abhinav’s sister who expressing her joy said that prior to Rakhi it is the most precious gift from a brother given to her sister. Keep it up Abhinav in future too.
Dutch master retires
ONE of the smartest and most effective strikers in the past decade bid adieu to international football last week. Ruud van Nistelrooy has been a terrific servant for the Dutch football team. He even set aside his differences with the coach Morco van Basten to help his team's cause during the Euro 08. His contribution is right up there along with the likes of Bergkamp, Davids etc.. While he continues to play club football, the maestro and his artistry o creating goals from nowhere will be definitely missed by the Oranje.