While a series loss is not a thing to celebrate, it was good that India lost the test and the series today. Imagine if India had contrived to win at the SSC today (in a reprise of Melbourne 1981, as a colleague fervently hoped). The gaping holes in the middle order would have been covered up with the inevitable explanations that accompany a heady victorious feeling: ‘They’re just one good knock away from success’, ‘It was just a one-off failure’, ‘They are great players, they will bounce back’… The spin twins would have been forgiven, why, even feted for their game efforts. And the general feeling would’ve been that all is well with Indian cricket.
Thankfully (no, I am not being cynical or defeatist here), India lost. Which means, hopefully, questions will be asked. And more hopefully, answers will be found. Sweeping changes are generally seen as over-reactions but may be it’s time to bring the broom out.
I believe there are possibly six slots open in the Indian test team. And that’s not counting the wicket-keeper’s slot into which MS Dhoni will surely walk in when he wants. (Is Dhoni indulging in his privileges a bit too much, one wonders, but that’s not the point of this post.)
Rahul Dravid has not been the same player ever since he resigned from the captaincy – even that tour of England, his last as captain, was forgettable for Dravid the batsman. He has managed just one hundred in some 12 test matches after that English tour, and even that was on the Chennai featherbed against South Africa. More than the loss of form (to counter those ‘form is temporary…’ arguments), Dravid looks positively agonised at the crease (and on the field – remember the catches he has dropped) – surely things we don’t know are going on in the man’s mind. It’s tempting to conjecture, but let’s move on.
It is sacrilege to talk of dropping Sachin Tendulkar, you might as well ask for God to be deemed human. But Sachin, his fans (remember to include me in that gang) and the selectors will have to face the hard facts. The wizard’s performance in Australia is certainly something to savour but one cannot forget that he is aging and the injuries have become more frequent. The scores in this series – 27, 12, 5, 31, 6 and 14 – surely don’t present a pretty picture, but more than the runs, the manner of the dismissals make for some really depressing viewing. Not reading Muthiah Muralitharan off the hand in the first innings of the first test, chasing a wide Chaminda Vaas delivery in the second innings of the second and twice padding up to incoming deliveries in third – fairly village, to be honest.
Sourav Ganguly may feel that he is the most under the scanner every time India under-performs. But then, considering he has the lowest batting average among the fab four should mean something. Moreover, after that dream series against Pakistan, barring a couple of fighting fifties at Sydney, a fifty in a losing cause against South Africa at Ahmedabad and another match-winning one against the same team at Kanpur, Sourav has done little to help his cause. The predictability of his dismissals – poking to slip seems to be his stock shot nowadays – makes him a sitting duck nowadays.
VVS Laxman may statistically have been the best of the four in the series, with scores of 56, 21, 39, 13, 25 and 61 not out, but those numbers are hardly Bradmanesque. Moreover, Laxman’s inability (it seemed as much unwillingness to me) to marshal the tail came to the fore again. This time it suggested a clear focus on playing for his place in the team rather than for the team, and that alone is reason enough to go the distance with the man. A round 6000 runs in test cricket is perhaps appropriate for this stylist, and ending tantalisingly short of 100 tests (he has 96 now) is also fitting for the man who, with a test average of 43.79, remains perhaps one of the bigger underachievers in Indian cricket.
It’s also worth looking closely at the performance of our spin twins, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. In a series in which Ajantha Mendis and Muthiah Muralitharan decisively grabbed 47 of the 60 Indian wickets to fall, Kumble and Harbhajan managed 24 out of the 38 Sri Lankan wickets to fall, 15 of which came in the second test. But while the M & M gang took wickets in a manner that was aggressive and confident, the same can’t be said of the Indian duo. There is a certain defensiveness about both of them, a certain lack of faith in their own abilities, evidenced by how they let Mahela Jayawardene manipulate them at will in Kandy and Kumar Sangakkara likewise at the SSC.
Time to go, gentlemen.