India v Australia: It Will Be Difficult for India to Come Back
An uphill climb ahead at Melbourne and Sydney.
It is not that India has not won back to back Tests away from home. They have done so on a few occasions and in fact have won two successive Tests in Australia way back in 1977-78. They have also performed the feat in England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka besides of course Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But somehow this time there was always a doubt whether India would win the second Test at Perth after going ahead in the four-match series at Adelaide.
It was not just the narrow 31-run victory that raised these doubts. Somehow one always felt that this Indian side despite being ranked No 1, despite being touted about as favourites against a none-too-strong Aussie side in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner just did not have it in them to repeat the feat of 41 years ago. On closer scrutiny one has to conclude that this is not a very formidable Indian side and it is also not a very weak Aussie side. There were clear indications of this at Adelaide itself.
The Australians are the game’s traditional fighters and the phrase no match is lost till it is won is mostly associated with them. No team is more dangerous when cornered and after being pushed into a corner after the defeat in the first Test they took the minimum time required to strike back and level the series with an emphatic victory. They are now in the favourites circle and it will take a herculean effort from the Indians if they want to come back in the two remaining games.
The debate has already commenced whether the Indian think tank adopted the right tactic in going in with an all pace attack especially in the wake of a spinner Nathan Lyon emerging not only as the leading wicket taker but also taking the man of the match award. The Indians might point out to the fact that adopting a similar strategy they won the Johannesburg Test earlier in the year but against that the fact also remains that with an all pace attack they were blown away by the Aussies in three days by an innings in 2011-12 - incidentally at Perth.
Given that spin is Indian cricket’s traditional strength it is best to include at least one specialist spinner besides three fast bowlers particularly in a Test in Australia. After all spin has played an important role in all of India’s six wins in Australia including the most recent one in Adelaide where Ravi Ashwin had a match haul of six wickets. At Perth Virat Kohli could only depend on part time spinners Hanuma Vihari and Murali Vijay to step in briefly.
Besides the faulty team selection there were other problems most notably with the batting. No praise can be too high for the bowlers but the batting and bowling has to perform in unison for a team to perform consistently well. The top order batting has been a sitting duck for the Aussie pacemen while the lower order has been repeatedly blown away. This ultimately cost India the match for in the middle order India have been the superior batting unit. Vijay and Lokesh Rahul average 12 each in the two Tests while the less said about the lower order the better. There is an over dependence on the trio of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane which means they are always playing under pressure.
Prithvi Shaw being ruled out of the series is a big blow and it is to be hoped that Mayank Agarwal who has been drafted into the side can come good. He certainly is a most deserving choice going by his first class record which includes a triple hundred and a career average of 50 to go along with his recent fine form. Hardik Pandya who is also to join the team gives the team management some extra options in both batting and bowling
All the same one gets the distinct feeling that it will be difficult for India to come back at Melbourne and Sydney. The initiative has now shifted to Australia and they are not the kind of team that will surrender it especially at home.