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.