India v/s Australia
India leads the 4 match series 1-0
Despite winning the first match of the India-Australia series, team India will head to Hyderabad in an uneasy state of mind. That may sound odd, considering the fact that they just thrashed the Aussies in the first test match at Chennai. This team found itself in the same commanding situation after 1 test match a few months ago, against a spinophobic English side in Ahmedabad heading to Mumbai. Dhoni and co. then lost 2 of the next 3 test matches, failing to win even one. Winning by 8 wickets in a first test of a series- twice in a row now- will not calm many Indian fans. Most of them are very aware that if not for Dhoni’s ‘test innings of his life’ and Ashwin’s sudden return to form, the match was far from convincing. Surely, such performances don’t happen everyday- and a consistently good team is formed only when they manage to pull through without any extraordinary performances, like India so often did from 2008 to 2011.
Now, on their way to Hyderabad with not much of a break in between, there are some glaring issues that Dhoni hopes will not interrupt their winning streak of one match. He can address those issues, but only after the second test match, when the squad for the final two matches are named.
A lot will ride on the Hyderabad test for 3 Indian players- despite the convincing win at Chennai: Murali Vijay, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. Two of them are at the fag end of their careers, and one refuses to have a career outside of a yellow jersey or a cup final. Vijay cannot afford to look like he does not belong at this level anymore. One feels his frustrating inconsistency has more to do with his swagger and mindset than his technique. When on song, he is one of the most attractive batsmen in the world to watch- but that song is more of a season ending finale exit theme. He must learn that the man he has replaced, though blessed with considerably lesser talent, scored a blazing century against this same Aussie attack in the warmup game. Gambhir has known to be careless lately, but he can be accused of anything but courage. His intensity could bring him back in contention for the final two tests- and, funnily enough, could replace Sehwag if Vijay comes good. This Hyderabad test could be the place where the openers are exposed even more brutally if the middle order decides to tank. A loss does nothing but magnify the weak links, and this win has bought the openers time- in the form of one more test match.
Then, there is the curiously sympathetic case of India’s 3rd highest wicket-taker of all time. Harbhajan Singh hasn’t been himself since Kumble retired, and he has failed to impress even at domestic level. While most commentators (especially Laxman) were quick to take his side and talk of him like a special child on his first day of school at Chennai, one must remember that this is international cricket. There is no room for pity, sympathy or even patience in a team that has already been suffering long enough. However respected a bowler or batsman is, the management must know that they cannot live on past glories anymore- especially not in a series that could make or break a lot of other careers. A single weak link like Harbhajan could very well put pressure on the rest, and Dhoni’s comment about him doing a good job in the second innings seemed like a ‘thank-you’ note after an extraordinarily pathetic first innings display. It was disheartening to hear seasoned commentators urging listeners to ‘understand’ that Harbhajan needed support and confidence, and he would ‘ease back’ into form. His body language could improve, they said, if Dhoni had more faith in his abilities.
This is test cricket. Players must have faith in their own abilities first, knowing that they are representing their country at the highest level. They cannot simply skip in to bowl, with half a heart, worried about cutting errors- rather than going for the kill. They cannot afford to walk back to their spot feigning helplessness and disinterest, with a hunched passive way about themselves. And they certainly cannot look upward when rewarded with a tail-enders wicket trying to denote that there is, indeed, a God that rewards hard work. A frontline spinner that used to pride himself on his attitude and ability to rile this same opposition team is now thanking the Lord for ‘finally’ giving him a wicket.
All said and done, Harbhajan Singh may not be good enough to play at this level anymore. And Hyderabad could be his farewell test, unless he summons the demons of 2001. India v/s Australia has never been a less feisty affair, and despite both teams looking very average- it is still a battle of equals.
Onto Hyderabad for round 2.