After losing the second game despite scoring 300-plus, Mahendra Singh Dhoni observed that given the attack he has in the ongoing series against Australia, his team needs to score more to put the opposition batsmen under pressure.
The Indian captain looked good to win both the third and fourth matches to go into the decider 2-2, if not more. They had absolutely no business to lose at the Manuka Oval in Canberra when they were set to get 349, the kind of score Dhoni was hinting at from his batsmen after losing the first two games.
They were on course, too, till a dreadful collapse from a position of strength put paid to their aspirations thus missing an opportunity to prove that that they are not as bad a side as they are made out to be after losing the series 0-3.
Wonder if any team has lost four matches in a row after getting 300-plus in the first two matches, and coming close to in the third and chasing the biggest of them all in the fourth. Australia comfortably reached targets of 310, 309 and 296 and set a record at WACA in Perth, Gabba in Brisbane and MCG in Melbourne for chasing.
Come to think of it, two years ago India chased down Australia’s 360-run target for the loss of only Shikhar Dhawan’s (95 off 86 balls) wicket at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur with a whopping 39 balls still remaining. It was again Rohit Sharma (141 not out off 123 balls) and Virat Kohli (100 off 52 balls) who saw the team through.
The same trio made light of a 351-run target in the sixth match at Jamtha, Nagpur, this time, Dhawan and Kohli hitting hundreds and Rohit 79, and in the seventh and last match, Rohit cracked his first double century (209) to leave Australia unsuccessfully chasing 383 runs. So it is not that the Indians did not win matches posting or chasing 300 plus scores.
On the current tour, Dhoni clearly looked disturbed when his team could not defend winnable totals in the first two matches and then crashing from 277 for one to 323 all out in the fourth. If he thought his bowlers needed a cushion of more runs while defending he found his middle and lower order batsmen wanting after the top order put them on the way to a comfortable victory.
To dub the Indians chokers or not good enough to play overseas may be stressing the obvious, but they did not give it up without a fight for a fair distance.
Dhoni tried to defend the newcomers, but in his heart of hearts, he knows some of them had no excuses to trot out for their mindless approach. They lacked the simple cricketing sense of how to bowl at particular stages or how to stay at the wicket. These things can’t be taught to a bowler or batsmen at the international level. These abilities are inculcated in them by their coaches at all levels of their career as most of them come through the age-group stages.
The tragedy is some have been inducted into the national side on their showing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) where they get away with such slam-bang, certainly not at the international arena. What beats is someone like Ravindra Jadeja, who has been around for quite some years, did not think of walking down the pitch to calm down Gurkeerat Mann or Rishi Dhawan after they hit a four each. To say that he is not a communicator sounds ludicrous.
But then the youngsters have not been able to utilise the opportunities they got fully. The selectors wanted to see their mettle following their excellent showing in domestic cricket, and there cannot be a better place to test their temperament than in Australia. They need not be written off after a failure or two.
Take the case of Barinder Sarn, he had an impressive debut as the Australians had not played him before. Once they got the hang of his bowling he started trying out new things and kept faltering. The more he bowls the more he will, hopefully, learn. Umesh Yadav looked as good when he first came on the scene, but he is still struggling for consistency.
There is also the danger of packing the squad with bits-and-pieces players. That has left little room for the team management to maneuver with no specialist batsman like Ambati Rayudu or Suresh Raina on the bench. A specialist batsman could have been tried. Manish Pandey should also be tried out over a longer period.
No point going after the captain unless he himself says he is no longer motivated enough to play. Captains have in the past relinquished the job and played under players much junior to them. See the number of captains Sachin Tendulkar played under.
Just as Dhoni was, Kohli is fortuitous in taking the Test team to number one position and the clamour for a change at the top will increase. Just as he did when he quit Test cricket, he will anoint Kohli as his successor in the other forms, too.
Dhoni is bang on in his now philosophical discourses after every defeat: It’s not about the leader, he’s there today and tomorrow someone else will be in that position, what’s important is to see the areas the team is lacking in and the departments to improve.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)