Monday, April 1, 2013

A doctored sweep

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When India lost 4 tests in a row to England while perched at the top of the Test ranking, it was evident something was wrong with the team. Bad Luck and these-things-happen-in-cricket type of analysis offered by the leaders was laughable. 

18 months, and a million more denials later they lost a home series to England in late 2012. After the 0-2 loss to South Africa 12 years earlier, this was a new low in Indian cricket. 

Rahul Dravid had retired and VVS Laxman seemed to have been nudged into retirement, but largely changes weren't deemed necessary for the English series because many involved believed India just have to show up at any ground in India, provide a pitch specification to the curator and the English will just roll over and go back paying rich tributes to Sachin Tendulkar. 

Thankfully, India lost and the new selection committee led by Sandip Patil had the backing of a crisis; albeit publicly denied; to make some serious changes. 

They did...

Gautam Gambhir was dropped, Sehwag was put on notice Zaheer Khan was banished to get himself fixed, and Harbhajan was given a complimentary 100th Test before being benched. 

R Ashwin realized that getting wickets at home too involved some thinking, India rethought their strategy, investing their faith in Ravindra Jadeja to seek a better balance and they unleashed the mustache twirling Shikhar Dhawan after Sehwag's notice period ended. 

and voila! India sweep the Australians 4-0

Just as there was more to India being swept in England than the leadership was capable of admitting, the 4-0 sweep of the Australians is too convenient a story line for me to just take at face value. 

It can't be that simple, can it? 

Yes this was a very weak Australian, in fact the weakest since the 1985-86 Australian team that hosted Kapil Dev's team. India have hosted weak teams before but never had they swept a series of more than 3 Tests. 

What was different this time?

Dhoni's captaincy? Ravindra Jadeja? India's sudden-found ruthlessness? 

I think it's the pitches....

One cause of unease for me is definitely the pitches. Its one thing to be inherently better prepared to use home conditions but when pitches are made to order to spin and crumple from Day 1, its a sign of desperation and insecurity. India were probably not confident enough to win on lets say a typical Chepauk wicket, where Test matches have hasted a full 5 days, that they had to recruit curators to build pitches to a specification.

New Zealand did a similar thing to counter India's strong batting line up when India visited them in 2002 and, I remember there was a Test where all 4 innings of the Test were played on one day; the second day. It was fun (for a while) to watch the ball swing and wickets tumble but with Test Matches lasting barely 2 days, the home advantage was quite obviously artificially engineered and magnified. Even with typical New Zealand wickets, India would still have lost but by going out of their way to make India's famed batting look out of breath, New Zealand deceived only themselves.

I think India have resorted to something similar and only time will tell, how good this Indian team is at home in normal home conditions. 


Homer said...

Of course it was the pitches.

Because we can conveniently omit from the narrative the fact that it was Australia that won the toss on all four occasions and got first use of the wicket.

Or that India scored 572, 503, 499 and 272 in the second innings on "pitches are made to order to spin and crumple from Day 1"!

Let us also completely overlook the fact that India picked players on form, and that they played 5 bowlers in every single outing - that will be too inconvenient to the narrative.

So yes, it was the pitches, because what point an India fan without the chest beating and self flagellation, even when faced with something monumental as winning 4 tests on the trot ( something we dont seem to manage across series, let alone the same series).


Golandaaz said...

Homer, All of that is true, including the pitches.

Anonymous said...

"Pitch did it" doesnt explain India's big scores.
I dont read too much into this series because it is difficult to make out anything from this Aussie team's surrender, just as beating India 4-0 didnt show the real worth of Eng/Aus.

And you forgot that, but for Sachin being in the team, India would have won this series 5-0!

Your Favourite Anon

Golandaaz said...

Hi Anon, With the sachin situation, slowly the joke appears to be on us not on him... he will eventually retire after he has made everyone look like fools for not nudging him out