Not embarrassed? India’s excuses don’t really convince anyone

PREDICTABLY, India has been whitewashed by Australia in the four-Test series. This is the second such loss abroad in the space of six months; in between, India managed to beat the West Indies at home 1-0, with two Tests drawn. In that three-Test series, India was twice outscored in the first innings by what cannot be regarded as anything other than a weak Windies outfit.

After the loss, the Indian team has been at pains to emphasise that it is not “embarrassed” by being hammered in this manner. It boasts two of the three highest run-scorers in Test cricket in its ranks, but, no, it is not embarrassed. It was the top Test nation as recently as May last year, but falling to a rebuilding Australian team – which lost a Test to New Zealand before India arrived – is not embarrassing.

Then exactly what would be embarrassing? Being beaten by Bangladesh or Zimbabwe? If the Indian players have no pride in what they do, they should retire en masse. There are plenty of good cricketers in the country to fill the ranks. In fact, the persistence with players like V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar over the years has excluded a generation of good players from ever making an impact.

Just because a player makes one hundred in a Test series, he should not be considered to be a sure selection. Many players make painful hundreds that more than anything illustrate that they have lost it – Matthew Hayden is a classic example. He made a painful 100 in the final Test of 2005 against England when Australia needed to win to level the series and retain the Ashes. But given that he was a mate of the captain, Ricky Ponting, he was able to prolong his career for another four years.

The Indian cricket authorities are interested in money. But if the selectors do not look to winning abroad, the team’s appeal will fall as happened with the West Indies. When the team from the Caribbean was on top for thr world, they were in Australia every other year because the public wanted to see them. Once they started falling off that perch, they were no longer a drawcard. India will go the same route if it does not look sharp about fielding a winning outfit.

Another thing that the Indian team has refused to acknowledge is that the rise of the Twenty20 game has affected its Test team. This is another blind spot. The Indian board supports the Indian Premier League, hence the cricketers, its employees, cannot be critical of it. But the shortest version of the game has definitely had an impact; last time Sehwag played at Adelaide, he made a sedate 151 in the second innings which enabled India to draw the game. This time he made a jerky 63 during which hardly a stroke went where it was intended to go.

There appear to be divisions within the team with most players not seeming to care whether they win or lose. They are paid massive salaries no matter what happens and keep getting picked over and over again, despite poor performances. Captain M.S. Dhoni seems to have lost interest and was just content to let things take their course during the Tests against Australia.

And in Duncan “Whitewash” Fletcher, they have a coach who seems to specialise in guiding teams to lose all Tests in a series. He did it with England when they played Australia in 2006-07, with India against England in 2011 and with India against Australia in the series that just concluded. The Indian board is definitely getting value for money – it is said that he is paid three-quarters of a million dollars for guiding teams so that they can achieve such results. It is reminiscent of the bonuses bankers are paid these days for achieving losses for shareholders.

India does plays Test cricket abroad in Sri Lanka next, but the conditions there are very similar to those in India. The first real test will come against South Africa at the end of 2013. There is plenty of time for the Indian board, selectors and players to conveniently forget about the whitewashes and start talking themselves up again. Public memory, remember, is woefully short.

India gets a thrashing in Australia

THE Indian cricket team is licking its wounds after having suffered a third straight loss in the Test series against Australia, the latest inside three days. On the surface, there appears to be more to the plight of the Indian team than just its lack of ability.

The players do not appear to be united and one wonders if a change of captain will make a difference. That fact can be tested in Adelaide as the captain, M.S. Dhoni, has been suspended for slow over-rates and Virender Sehwag, who is said to be at loggerheads with Dhoni, will be taking over.

Dhoni is clearly fed up of all the cricket. He used to be a captain who would often come up with a clever move or two to put the opposition on the back foot. Now he appears to be waiting for things to happen and, at times, he often appears to be elsewhere mentally. Nothing else can account for the strange decision to give his fastest bowler, Ishant Sharma, the ball only when Australia had reached 88 without loss in its first innings in Perth.

The captain is not India’s only problem. Exactly why an idiot like Duncan Fletcher, who presided over a 5-0 thrashing of England by Australia in 2006, should have been appointed coach after the canny Gary Kirsten is not known. Surely, with the salary on offer, the Indian cricket board could have had its pick of coaches?

Even though Adelaide is known for being a featherbed and one of the pitches that allows batsmen to score heavily, it is unlikely that India will do any better than draw the game. That would be the best the team can hope for and is a long shot; the most likely outcome will be another defeat, this time in four days, not three. The team is too demoralised to even come close to challenging Australia.

Some myths about the Australia-India Test series

EVER since the Indian cricket team was two months away from its current tour of Australia, the media and the PR people have been boosting it as being based on some kind of “traditional” rivalry. This is just one of the many myths that was being spread about this tour in an attempt to draw crowds.

There is no such traditional rivalry. Australian teams have been historically reluctant to tour India, because of the conditions. Indian teams have been similarly reluctant to tour Australia because of the one-sided umpiring. (A good example of this was seen in 1999 when Sachin Tendulkar was given out lbw in the second innings for a duck after a ball from Glenn McGrath hit him on the helmet! The umpire was none other than the corpulent Darryl Hair, the same man who tried to extort money from the ICC after he was embroiled in a row after making Pakistan forfeit a Test in England.)

Yet another myth being spread is that India is a very strong team. Wrong. India’s famed batsmen are all on the verge of retirement. And their bowling attack is not that good either – Zaheer Khan is recovering from an injury, as is Ishant Sharma. The third paceman, Umesh Yadav, is only four Tests old. And the spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is a better batsman than a spin bowler.

After Australia lost a series at home to the West Indies in 1992-93, the next time they lost at home was to South Africa in 2008-09. They were then beaten by England in 2010-11. These three teams were immensely strong in the years when they defeated Australia. In each series, Australia did win one Test. But this is a statistic few will cite for it would hardly bolster the claim everyone has been making, that India had the best chance to win a series in Australia this time. It is extremely difficult to defeat Australia at home.

India has never won a series either in Australia or South Africa, where the wickets are somewhat similar. And they never will until their batsmen are weaned off the Twenty20 diet that is beginning to markedly affect the quality of batsmen turned out by the country.

The mentality of the players who are coming off the Indian treadmill is encapsulated by Ashwin. As the garrulous Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle, a malaprop of no ordinary proportions, put it on ABC radio, Ashwin was trying to “force the pace” when he skied a ball to be last out in India’s second innings at the SCG. What pace was he trying to force? India was trying to save the game and make Australia bat again; it was still 68 runs short of that target when Aswhin lofted the ball unnecessarily.

To make big centuries in Test cricket, you have to either play against a team with a very weak attack or else do what Alastair Cook did during the England tour of 2010-11 – let everything outside the off-stump go by without being tempted; play the ball along the ground and avoid as much as possible hitting aerial shots. Cook scored more than 900 runs in that series, including two double-hundreds.

The flow of myths never stops. When the Australian captain Michael Clarke declared his team’s innings at 4 for 659 with his own score at 329, he was credited with putting the needs of the team before himself. Clarke had only to make six runs to beat the score jointly made by Mark Taylor and Don Bradman; he needed 52 to make the highest Test score by an Australian. The match was only at its halfway point when he declared – an Indian innings had never lasted more than a day in the two Tests to date.

Clarke could easily have gone for the record and, had he got to one, even tried to overtake Brian Lara’s 400 not out, the highest Test score of all time. He declared because he was afraid that if he went on, the media would write him off as being selfish, a charge he has had to fight ever since he became a Test cricketer. He had a fancy car, a model as girlfriend, and was as far away as possible from being the rough, blokey person that cricketers are expected to be. One writer even described him as a tosser. That image is what Clarke has been trying to live down. And that’s why he declared, to try and win respect.

He pulled a bit of spin in the second innings, after he came on to bowl, solely to preserve James Pattinson and Ben Hilfenhaus for the new ball, and, by chance, got the wicket of Tendulkar. It wasn’t planned, it was a fluke. But did he tell the truth? No, Clarke used it as one example of his brilliant captaincy skills.

No commentator pointed out that when he had a lead of 468 runs and India was really under the gun, Clarke set extremely conservative fields. Two slips at best when a team was desperately trying to avoid a second successive loss in Australia and a run of six Test defeats abroad. And when Australia was under the gun in South Africa recently, Clarke was among those who surrendered meekly.

No comment on the series would be complete without some mention of the monkey on Tendulkar’s back. The wisest thing for him to do would have been to play a couple of the one-dayers against the West Indies last year and score his 100th international century. Instead, he sat out all the ODIs against the Windies and now the entire team is hostage to his quest for this elusive hundred.

But other teams should be happy when Tendulkar scores a hundred. Of his 51 Test hundreds, on 20 occasions the team won. On 11 occasions, India lost and on the remaining 20, the games were drawn. If the eight centuries made against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are removed, then of the 43 times he made hundreds, only on 14 occasions did India win.

With his ODI hundreds, it is a similar tale: of his 48 ODI hundreds, 33 were made on occasions when India won. On 13 occasions India lost, and there was one tie and one no-result. But of those 33 hundreds made in a winning cause, nine were made against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Namibia.

Will India win a single Test? The short answer is no. But the crowds will flock to see the Tests as Indians are crazy about cricket and there are plenty of them in Australia.