Down Under Diary : Round One – Australia

200733.3A great test match to start a series that promises to be an engaging one. The events running upto the test match were grossly unfortunate ones, and its admirable the spirit that both the teams brought to the ground to play a game that will long be remembered for its fighting qualities.

For starters am not disappointed one bit. I believe transition happens gradually. And this result is a big shot in the arm in that transitional journey.

For the recent history of Indian Cricket it was heartening to see couple of the top order batsmen putting their head down and make a serious headway towards the summit. Alas, at the end the lack of plan, match awareness and sheer mis fortune of some of the others made it yet another case of “So near yet so far”.

A few things that I pondered at the end:

The curious case of Karan Sharma: I am a huge supporter for giving new players opportunities at the big stage. However, as I saw Karan in this game I wondered if he himself had any plans for his debut. We hear legends talk about visualizing their first test match as they grow up the ranks. And when it arrives how they are keen to put the plan to action. I read Ponting, Hussey, Hayden speak about this in their autobiographies. However, I didn’t see that from Karan. I mean, for a leg spinner his plans were to look for the rough outside or around the leg stump and relentlessly try and land the ball there, irrespective of the outcome. Players like Warner will come hard at you yet one has to have the gumption to stick to that plan.

This also brings to the fore the question of why Karan Sharma? And not Ashwin? Probably our think tank thought about the number of right handed quicks (3 in India and 4 in Australia) who will create the rough around the leg stump (of a right hander), and went with the Leggie. And then our right handed bowlers kept bowling around the wicket, which fed to the aid of Lyon – to decimate us. Bizarre planning. Sometimes its good to not have options. Australia has one spinner, he has been told what is needed and he went out there to create havoc based on the rough created by just one of their bowlers (Johnson). Ashwin is our best spinner in that team, and he has to play if at all there is a chance of using a spinner. His batting too would have come in handy to reduce the lead in the first innings and some support for Kohli in the second.

Our Batting: Dhawan is struggling. Rohit lacked vision or plan or match awareness. Pujara’s footwork and technique looks downright dodgy (too much gap between bat and pad). Its great to play be instincts, however match awareness is a critical component and in tests does dictate the approach. Steve Smith demonstrated it how one needs to curb one’s instincts and dig in for a long innings. Am not sure Dhawan and Rohit have any of that on their mind. You cannot have “I will play like this only” attitude when expectation is for you to buckle down and play a certain game. It was heartening to see Vijay leaving 98% of the short stuff dished out to him. And its no surprise why he is the most improved and most successful Indian batsman over the last year or so. Time is running out on Dhawan / Rohit. Ambati Rayudu is snapping at Rohit’s feet and for Dhawan – it wouldn’t harm to try out Raina, with Rahane at the top.

That brings me to Pujara. The amount of Clean Bowled dismissals in England certainly underlined that yawning gap between Bat and Pad. It still exists. Add to that his neither front nor back approach to Lyon. He will need to soul search a little. This is the only format he plays and he should clear all mental cobwebs and focus on his balance, focus and technique. He will have to revisit the technique he leveraged well in South Africa and find what was working well then. At present there are a few issues there. Its very important for Pujara to be at the top of his game for Indian batting to be solid.

Mohd. Shami: Someone in that tent needs to have an honest chat with Shami, on where his head is at. Again I don’t see any plan in his head. He isn’t visualizing his bowling and its just running in and putting it there kind of approach. He does have a lot of potential. Its unfair to judge based on this wicket, am sure a wicket like Gabba / Melbourne will bring out a different Shami. Yet he needs to run in with intent and a plan. He will be a different bowler from what he is today.

Virat Kohli: He has arrived and how. I am amazed at his coming of age over the last 18 months or so. The biggest point he made with his twin tons is how to put your head down and shed a poor overseas form. We have often seen players let the poor form meander for too long. He worked hard and made sure he was ready with his top game for his debut at the helm. While one outing as a captain is too short to judge his performance in the long run, yet in his case we can be rest assured the future is in safe hands. Its increasingly clear now that this may be MS Dhoni’s last overseas tour as a test captain (or player). My gut says he may choose to not play tests going forward. I seriously feel the move to let Virat captain the Adelaide test in spite of Dhoni being in Australia is an intentional exercise. Whatever the reality, Kohli will be the go to man soon – and he has certainly made a huge shout out for it. Its great that we have transitioned into a younger test team (kudos to the present system which worked for it taking some really hard calls), and I also believe it will take some more time for this team to fully be there. This young band of people have a lot of time ahead of them to play themselves into a formidable unit. And going by the age group this team will be ideal for Kohli to lead. We can clearly say – exciting days ahead!

Clarke: Its sad to see what we saw – Clarke hobbling off. News coming from the Aussie dug out is a sad one. He isn’t going to play for the rest of the series that’s certain – he may not play Cricket at all. Whatever it is, its highly unfortunate to see a champ like Pup have an abrupt ending to his career. All our best wishes to him as he embarks on a long rehab plan. Hope to see him in the whites soon leading his band of boys out in the middle. In the last couple of weeks, I have been deeply impressed, moved and inspired by his leadership presence. It underlined his character as a person, mate, player and leader. To see him go out almost on one leg was certainly & utterly unfortunate.

For the remainder of the series, We will need a bit more planning, bite and effort from our bowlers. Dhoni will be back. He will need to continue this aggression. With Ravi Shastri in there one can be rest assured on the aggression bit. MS will need to play it out in the middle. Its certain the Aussie Zip will be well and truly in display at Brisbane. It will be for our boys to have their chin up and give a fitting reply to the questions posed.

Game On!


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