Sydney to Sydney, Perth to Perth

Outsmarted at Melbourne, outclassed at Sydney and outgunned at Perth. India started this tour with, what many called, their best chance of winning a Test series in Australia. They will end it in shambles.

Four years ago a big chunk of this team traveled to Australia. They had been outsmarted in Melbourne. Dravid, asked to open, was struggling to put bat on ball; Laxman was suffocated and Tendulkar dazzled with a first-innings fifty before falling to an expansive stroke. India, bogged down by maidens, struggled to score at much more than two an over in the second innings. Just as in the 2004 series in India, their batsmen were frustrated out.

At the end of the match, Kumble spoke of the fine line the team needed to tread: to try and score freely, yet not venture into irresponsible territory. The late Peter Roebuck summed it up when he said: India need to meld beauty with grit.

There was a further blow on the eve of the Sydney Test: Zaheer was ruled out, leaving India with a new-ball pair with a combined experience of ten Tests. And to top it off Australia, on the verge of a record-equaling 16th consecutive Test win, won the toss. The odds were stacked as high at the Harbor Bridge.

But nobody told RP Singh about this. In only his ninth Test, he made up his mind to lead the attack and turned in two inspired spells. Ishant, in just his third Test, ran in hard and induced an edge off Symonds when he was on 30 (his reaction to being denied the wicket was to try and bowl faster). On a day dotted with horrific umpiring and a belligerent partnership, India kept striving. They were down but those walking in for the second day’s play knew they were far from being out.

Then came the fightback. Laxman brought the beauty, Dravid came with the grit. One scorched crisp cover-drives, the sweet sound of leather on willow prompting gasps across the SCG; another played, missed, edged, blocked, played again and missed again. One flew, the other dodged. Here was beauty, in all its splendor, melding with hard-as-nails grit. The series was alive.

None of this would have mattered if not for what followed: Tendulkar arriving with masterful control. This was not a diamond-studded half-century but an immaculately paced hundred. Like a perfectly-oiled machine, the gears neatly enmeshed, he gradually clawed India back. India led by 69 in the first innings. This team was kicking.

Three days later, they were flattened. Defeated in the gloaming, done in by shoddy umpiring and insulted by an opposition captain who didn’t see the need to shake hands with his counterpart at the end of the match, India endured what was possibly their most painful Test defeat. One of the younger players in the team, his head bowed, sitting distraught in the dressing-room, felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Kumble. His message was brief: “We’ll win at Perth.”

And win they did. Barring perhaps Kolkata in 2001, no Indian Test victory could have been scripted against such odds. Australia hadn’t lost at the WACA since 1997; India had never won there. The pre-match talk was about pace, pace and more pace. Shaun Tait was set to be unleashed as Australia aimed for win No. 17. India won the toss. Conventional wisdom suggested they field. Kumble chose to bat.

Dravid, back to No.3, regained his confidence, Tendulkar innovated, those magical wrists guiding short balls over the slip cordon, and Laxman showcased his steely side. RP continued to lead the attack manfully and Irfan Pathan, making a comeback, swung the ball at delightful arcs. Ishant devoured Ponting in that spell and the tail wagged – RP adding valuable runs with Laxman as India stretched the lead in the second innings.

Adelaide followed. An even contest deservedly ended in a draw. A series that had begun like a nightmare ended with plenty to cheer. Sydney and Perth were inflection points: it was a point from which Australia lost their aura, the team losing its sheen with every series that followed. For India, it was the start of an ascent. They won the one-day tri-series that followed. Many players, including Dhoni, has spoken about the effect that the tour had on the players, the confidence they gained in battling adversity and the satisfaction in clawing back from what was seemingly an abyss.

Sydney and Perth in 2008 epitomised the Indian Test side of the last decade. These were teams which rose to the top by finding a way to fight back; by putting behind a demoralising defeat; by disrupting the opposition’s rhythm when the bowlers were on top (Sehwag at Galle, Laxman at Sydney); by scrapping when the pitch was hard (Dravid in Headingley and in Kingston, Tendulkar in Nottingham, Gambhir in Napier); by seeking battling performances from the tail (Nottingham, Sydney, Adelaide, Kingston); by the dint of rookies exceeding expectations (RP, Ishant, Dinesh Karthik, Sreesanth, Bangar, Irfan); by believing that they will only improve as the series goes along; by understanding that beauty means nothing if not infused with grit.

And here we stand in 2012 when an Indian team has competed in Melbourne, shriveled in Sydney and collapsed in Perth. Zaheer and Sehwag have been fit for all Tests and Dravid hasn’t needed to open. Ishant has more than 100 Test wickets now and Dhoni – despite the shellacking in England and here – remains, statistically,  India’s most successful captain. The team had two practice games before the tour and were up against an Australian side in a transition – a side that will struggle to match up to the Australian squad from 2008.

These results are not purely a matter of ability. Zaheer is a far more capable bowler than RP and Irfan; Gambhir has a far better Test record than Bangar, Karthik and Chopra; the crux of the batting line-up knows what it takes to win Tests in Australia; Dhoni knows what it takes to win cricket matches; and the bulk of the tail – Ashwin, Zaheer and Ishant – are more than capable of sticking around than many of their recent predecessors. This was supposed to be a team that had a judicious mix of youth and experience – a chance for the old guard to say a cheerful goodbye as the young guns took charge.

And yet it’s all up in smoke. You can analyse the defeats until the cows come home, you can debate the merits of selection, you can dissect Dhoni’s captaincy threadbare, you can grapple over an apparent flaw that has crept into Dravid’s technique, you can criticise Kohli for not seizing all his chances, you can curse the hype over Tendulkar’s 100th hundred, you can slam the IPL, you can hurl your kitchen sink at the BCCI, you can list umpteen ways in which domestic cricket can be revamped, you can wonder if India is even prepared with a succession plan once the veterans retire and you can question what Duncan Fletcher has brought to this side (if he has brought anything at all).

But I am more interested in that one quality that’s gone missing. Call it belief, call it bounceback-ability, call it an unshakeable resolve, call it a desire to reverse the tide, call it the X-factor, call it anything. I am more interested in when and how this side lost its ability to fight the odds.

I am not suggesting the players aren’t trying. That has never crossed my mind. But it’s quite clear that something intangible is missing. Some have called it ‘hunger’, others say it’s called ‘desire’. I am not going to invent a new term here but, as someone who has watched India’s Test side over two decades, I sense a gaping absence.

I’ve missed the Ganguly-inspired ballsiness. I’ve missed the ‘fuck you mode’ that John Wright asked the team to adopt during the 2003 World Cup. I’ve missed the unshakable belief that helped us come back in Headingley, 2002 and Durban, 2010. I’ve missed the spirit that won us the Mohali Test in 2010.

I’ve missed Laxman’s steely side. I’ve missed Tendulkar avatar that shelves shots. I’ve missed Dravid’s over-my-dead-body efforts on a spiked pitch. I have missed the team’s ability to counterpunch. I have missed Sehwag. Which senior player is going to reassure Umesh Yadav with ‘We’ll win in Adelaide’? Does anyone in this team even believe we have a chance?

And herein lies my anguish. This team is making me lose hope in turnarounds, they’re whimpering from one game to another, they’re acting like hesitant, shy schoolboys and walking into well-laid traps. They are showing no inkling to think out of the box. And they are bizarrely surrendering meekly rather than going down swinging. It’s a team I’m not used to. It’s a team that has forgotten how to respond. It’s a team that’s lost its bearings.

I don’t care which eleven Indian players walk out at Adelaide. I don’t even want to suggest who to drop and who to retain. Losing 4-0 isn’t the end of the world (after all, we’ve been there a few months ago). I am not paying any attention to all the speculation about impending retirements.

All I ask for is a sign. All I ask for is more of what Umesh did on the second day at Perth, more of what Kohli did on the third. All I ask for is any sign that tells me that this team is willing to reverse the tide, a sign that shows me that that these players haven’t forgotten the art of fighting the odds, a sign that reassures me that the wheels haven’t completely come off at the end of an ardous journey that began – thanks to many of the same players – a little over a decade ago.

Related: Why Durban matters, Match draw, series won, flight delayed

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64 Responses to Sydney to Sydney, Perth to Perth

  1. Ramesh says:

    Very nice. Lots of valid points. I sincerely believe that somehow the Aussies have figured out Indians do not bat well when they are bowled fast, swinging, full balls outside the off stump. Such sustained pressure, to my knowledge, was never applied earlier. I can understand talking about grit and resolve, Sachin shunning his cover drive in Sydney 2004, but somehow I am more willing to credit the opposition for their bowling than deride our legends for our batting.

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks Ramesh. Such sustained pressure was applied in 2004 (by a far higher quality of bowlers) and again tried in 2008 (in Melbourne) before the Indian batsmen chose to change their approach in Sydney and after.

      • Hi Siddharth,

        2008 maybe, but I can’t see how you can say the 2004 Aussie attack had a higher quality of bowlers. No McGrath and Warne, Gillespie nearing the end and Brett Lee playing only two games. Nathan Bracken, Andy Bichel, Brad Williams, and Stuart MacGill are hardly what I would call a high quality Test attack. Siddle and Pattinson are definitely better.


      • sidvee says:

        Compare Agarkar, Pathan (on his first tour), Nehra and Kumble (who couldn’t even make the team in Brisbane) with Gillespie, Bracken, Williams and MacGill. When you consider the games were played in Australia I don’t think there is much to choose. India’s batting made Australia’s bowling look more ordinary than it was (again, that’s my opinion and can’t be proved with any quantitative analysis)

  2. Kartikeya says:

    As erudite as this is, I think its all too convenient to talk about intangible qualities. The fast bowling has gone downhill for India since 2008 and there is no Anil Kumble to keep the runs down and the opposing batsmen in check. The batting has aged. Rahul Dravid has the technique to play in these conditions, but has been consistently late on the ball since Melbourne. Sachin Tendulkar has not done badly – he made over 100 runs in each of the first two Tests. I suspect that he’s had his failure at Perth (his two previous visits there were successful – a century in 1992 and 76 in 2008), and will make runs at Adelaide. Laxman has been coming back into some sort of form, and Adelaide will suit his game. But the batsmen are getting old. They are not the players they were in 2004 or even 2008. I think the batting will do Ok in Adelaide if the Adelaide wicket plays anything like it usually does. The bowling, who knows! Whats more, I suspect that Sehwag will make runs at Adelaide, because that wicket will suit him.

    This type of assessment bothers me because its lets all sorts of very tangible things off the hook. It sounds very nice and very tragic, but there’s nothing beneath the words. Whats more, at least in some cases, that resolve is very much there. Change happens, not simply because someone wants it to happen, but because someone has the means to make it happen. In India’s case, they simply don’t have the means in 2011-12.

    There’s been enormous resolve in Dravid’s play, despite the fact that he’s struggled. Only a very very good player would make 47 in a Test against that bowling on that Perth pitch at a time when he’s noticeably slowed down. Gautam Gambhir’s innings, while they were cut short, demonstrated a willingness to change his methods and leave more outside off stump. He batted differently at Sydney and Perth compared to Melbourne. VVS has also changed his game. Dhoni can’t play on these wickets, especially given his method of reaching out far past his pads even when he’s not playing a full blooded shot.

    Ishant Sharma lacks basic control, as do Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Vinay Kumar (I think that an international captain should be able to expect that when his bowler says he will bowl on a given spot, that he will actually be able to do so. Dhoni doesn’t have this basic necessity). Zaheer is a phenomenal competitor, and his 2/91 does him no justice.

    The wickets have been livelier in 2011-12 than they were in 2007-08 and 2003-04. And where India’s bowlers could bowl well on helpful wickets in the mid 2000s, they can’t these days.

    What we have, in the past, seen as “fight” or “steely resolve” or whatever else, is an observation after the fact (we rarely see it in defeats and batting collapses, which makes me very suspicious of its existence). It is not generative. It is at best poetic. Winning, losing and competing in sport are, alas, far more prosaic matters. The locker room speech is empty, unless it is backed by hours and hours and hours of backbreaking practice (match and otherwise), which India’s fast bowlers lack.

    Fast bowling makes Test teams, especially when the wickets are not flat. That’s why India are in trouble.

    • Ravi says:

      Some of the comments here sound a bit off. For example, lumping Yadav with the likes of Vinay Kumar and Ishant Sharma is patently unfair on the youngster. He has been the one success story of this series for India – that Kohli is probably the one other success is probably telling.

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks Kartikeya. Didn’t get some of your points. ‘Bowling has gone downhill’ since 2008? So RP + Irfan + rookie Ishant > Zak + Experienced Ishant + Umesh? Also, Dravid has been late on the ball because he’s old? Also I notice many of your own observations above are ‘after the fact’

      Re your point about tangibility – I understand your uber-rational approach towards analyzing a team’s performance but I find it hard to believe that the whole is always the sum of the parts. As someone who has played the game at an amateur level and spoken to a number of players at the highest level (as well as just following the game), I am convinced that there is often an intangible quality that separates the good team from the ordinary ones and that a group of eleven great cricketers (at the peak of their powers) aren’t necessarily going to win you cricket matches without melding as a unit, without bouncing back in a crisis, without steeling themselves when the chips are down, without seizing the big points when the game is on the line and without bringing to the game a certain resolve. The only reason the previous sentence was so cliche-ridden is to reinforce my point that some of the best performances are often those that go beyond numbers.

      • Kartikeya says:

        I agree that my observations are “after the fact”. They are observations. How could they be otherwise? My point was that these observations about moods or intent or “intangible qualities” is that they are invariably after the fact and it is not clear what they are based on – while they need not be. Were these evident against the West Indies? Were these evident in England? Were they evident at Sydney? At Melbourne?

        As your essay shows, they are typically made by looking at star players. This, as any serious observer of a team sport (especially Test cricket!) will be forced to observe, invariably leaves the ordinary players out of the equation, even though, in practice, their performances often matter the most. It also, and this is even worse, leaves the opposition out of the equation. You say nothing of the 2008 Australians vs the 2012 Australians. Two very different teams – the 2008 side had weaker fast bowling, and more placid wickets.

        The opposition between an “uber-rationality” and “intangibility” is a convenient one (in that, I agree that the results are not “purely” a matter of ability, as you put it, I never ever said they are). This intangibility also operates within its own rationality – one which is conveniently elusive, not just to my eyes, but also apparently to your pen. Furthermore, you elevate this intangibility to a very high, substantially autonomous place (you say that the defeats can be analyzed until the cows come home, but that you are more interested in “that one quality that’s gone missing”).

        Intangible qualities are made up of tangible things. Rahul Dravid’s steely defense comes from a supreme technique, temperament and ability to concentrate. Laxman’s success comes from the peculiarity of the conditions he plays in. He’s not an all wicket player in the same way that Dravid or Tendulkar are. Neither is Sehwag.

        If there is one thing that the Tests in England and Australia have brought home to us (or should have), is that while India’s team, in a cricketing sense, was good enough to compete on equal terms against Australia (without McGrath) in Australia and England in England, they are no longer good enough to do so. Livelier wickets and better fast bowling in both England and Australia are the reason for this. And not one or two, but three good fast bowlers. What is common the England and Australia, is that neither have a single stand out star bowler – they have all had 4-5 fast bowlers, each of whom were more or less equally good, and better than all but one of India’s bowlers.

        For some reason though, this business of “intangible” qualities seems to be a very popular idea among fans.

      • sidvee says:

        Yes, they have been evident since the World Cup. Now I cannot pin-point the exact moment in games when these ‘intangible’ qualities have been missing (the very reason why they are intangible) but I feel a certain qualitative absence. Again, I am not saying India are losing Test matches only because of this. Of course there are several reasons – and I have listed many of them in that paragraph that talks about analyzing the defeats until the cows come home. I do wish to see all those factors addressed (and each one of those will require a separate post). And sure, intangible qualities are made up of tangible things but don’t you agree that the sum is sometimes greater than the whole? Also, your ‘livilier wickets and better fast bowling’ explanation can be countered with ‘poorer technique and lack of application’. After all it’s hard to say whether Aus have been really good or whether India have made them look so good. Which brings me back to the intangible qualities that seem to separate the good from the ordinary. Which may be one of the reasons why this line is popular among fans.

  3. karthikNYC says:

    What a beauty! Captured the entire gamut of a fan’s emotions through highs&lows.This article hits the nail on the head,this team has lost the ‘spark’ or a semblance of a fight that was there not long ago..This man should be a regular writer on Cricinfo,deserves much more visibility..fantastic piece,keep it up !

  4. Very few who still is optimistic and full of hope. Let’s see. I have written off this team alltogether. You know why? IPL. When you pay so much where in the world would they get motivated? All the sare jahaan se acha is depleted in today’s iPad world. For ex, see the world of soccer(football), the clubs even complain when a player gets injured playing for his country. This is where cricket is headed. Losing it’s beautiful game just to become ‘relevant’ to the present(shorter form), money, bollywood etc. Sorry if I sounded like the one from ‘katrathu thamizh’, I am a big optimist and a patriot myself. But you got to see it in the faces, the faces of our cricketers right now. Demotivated. Depleted of soul. Lets give our Dhoni a break and place the captaincy on maybe Shewag/gambir. Try out different things. But most of it all, we need a better domestic strategy to improve the game, not in hitting the ball out of the ground, but in playing the beautiful game we’ve grown liking.

  5. Russ says:

    Perhaps too, the perception of what happened in Sydney was the worst possible message for India to take from that game.

    Somewhere along the line, the awful umpiring in that game became entirely one-sided in Australia’s favour and decisive in denying them victory; not balanced against plumb lbw shouts against Tendulkar and Laxman that helped India to another 250 runs, nor with memories of a last-day collapse that was pathetic at best.

    Australia’s recent troubles, and the perception that the 2008 side was particularly strong, not standing on the precipice before a steep decline, seems to have convinced India that they only need to turn up and stay lucky to win. And that perception is completely wrong. Regardless of the umpiring, they weren’t unlucky in Sydney. They lost because they failed to seize the opportunities hard work had afforded them nor defend their position on day five. It is also wrong about Australia; the batting is still weak, but Lee, Johnson, Hogg and Tait were fodder for Indian batsmen who punish bad balls. Against an attack that refuses to gift runs and batsman less inclined to gift wickets, India has performed poorly, as they did against England.

    The lesson to take from Sydney is that Australia is a formidable opponent at home, who will yield little, and seize on the smallest advantage. A breeding ground for players like Cowan, Siddle or Hilfenhaus, who will persist until the last ball of the day, and be prepared for the first ball every session. (Kohli actually brought this up, and the stats are damning: 126/13 in the first and last 5 overs of each session, 206/7 in between vs. 119/3 and 250/7 for Australia).

  6. Ganesh says:

    Excellent! Point to be noted is that the hunger and desire has been shown by the youngest and the least experienced members of the team.

  7. Sathish says:

    Brilliant Post Sir. Bouncback-ability, X-Factor – Even when you are searching for words, you convey the message.
    @Karthikeya – But wasn’t this the best possible batting line up that we could have sent to Aus for Tests. Dravid was awesome in 2011. Tendulkar getting better and stronger since 2010. As Sidvee said Zak is far more capable than RP. Ishant is experienced and did a good job against WI. Ashwin was selected over Bhajji after looking at their recent performances. So all tangible things were taken into account. This is where someone like a Kumble with a strong character and steely resolve would have helped. The scoreline might still have been 2-0 or 2-1 in favour of Aus but we would have seen a fight.

    • karthikNYC says:

      Absolutely right..I refuse to believe that this team deserves 3-0.Ever since the first test from 214/6,27/4 and 214/2(when batting) the captain ‘fool’ Dhoni’s stupid tactics and lack of urgency to grab those moments that were offered by a team that had been just beaten by NZ turned out could see in their body language both in the team and their media (which incidentally had predicted an Ind series win ;)).To me,the inexplicable slump in form of Dravid after a reasonably fluent 50 in the 1st inns at Melbourne was a turning point wrt batting.An inspiring leader with perseverance and motivation would have made the series was well fought if not won.So I would put 70% of the blame on captain’s utter defensive tactics,overall negativity caused by his own inferior batting technique..and then the collective batting failures of ‘legends’..

  8. pensivethumbs says:

    Awesome lines :- ” I’ve missed Dravid’s over-my-dead-body efforts on a spiked pitch “

  9. Sankara Raman says:

    The turning point here was the 3rd test against the West Indies in WI where we did not go for a win. The ‘gaping absence’ is the lack of will to do something different – we have won in England, won the World cup etc. I used to disbelieve all the naysayers that Dhoni was more lucky than smart (remember the faux pas of dropping Ashwin in the World cup final?!).

    Like Ganguly said in one of the panel discussions, Dhoni’s style of captaincy of waiting for something to happen has been poorly exposed and I consider this to be the single reason for abject surrender, both in England and Australia. Ganguly’s fighting knock at the Gabba led the revival in 2004, Kumble’s one-liner at the post Sydney press conference in 2008 – “Only one team played cricket!” made the difference.

    We liked Dhoni for his cool and casual manner in handling media when we win – like “one of those things”! But it rankles, when we lose. I found it incomprehensible that he did not apologise to the Indian cricket fans after the 4th test in England when we could have put some fight.

    I, for one, was sensing a series which we would lose – “as long as Dhoni is the captain, we will not win more than one odd test abroad in Eng/SA/Aus/NZ is what I remember telling friends!”.

    To sum up, the ‘missing thing’ is a leader who accepts blame, responsibility and works on what needs to be done. Not merely giving excuse that the batsmen did not put up runs and bowlers have not bowled consistently. At least we seem to have made a beginning with that ‘I am the main culprit’ comment ….!

    • “We liked Dhoni for his cool” uh hh oh oh….

    • sidvee says:

      I too was a bit surprised by the Dominica decision and wrote a long post at the time. Not sure if we can trace the start of these failures to that one moment, though I agree with you that things have gone downhill since (especially while playing away). Sure, Dhoni has to take plenty of the blame (and he has admitted to being at fault) but I don’t think he needs to ‘apologise’ for anything. Also, I am not sure we have anyone to directly replace him as a captain at the moment and would be surprised if he leaves/is removed.

  10. very very very good article……….finally i found someone like you who care for this team not only here for enjoy in good times and for abuse in bad times…….well done

  11. Very Well Put!! The “Desire”, the hunger in the belly has been missing. We went from bad to worse on the mental side starting with MCG. There is surely no lack of ability .. Sad way to surrender .. and even sadder way for the “seniors” to be phased out. They deserved a positive bow out .. and they have failed themselves .. Dravid, VVS & Sachin!!

  12. Ravi says:

    Well written piece – but I think Sidvee misses that old saw completely – “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar have been the guys who have led a batting side which has been so successful – so successful, in fact, that the likes of Malcolm Conn and Tony Greig are having a field day gloating about their travails this series – because when these batsmen were in their pomp all these opportunists could do was sulk. However, these batsmen, the lynchpins of our batting, have probably reached a stage where while the skill is still there, their reflexes and instinct are no longer as sharp as they used to be – and hence their failings. This isn’t about putting up a fight – or not. That has been on display – it is just that, as 37-somethings they don’t have that sharpness they had and hence the depth of their fight isn’t enough to hide the inadequacies of those around them. Indian cricket needs to respect that, and their contributions need to be acknowledged for the success they brought – and for the high expectations we see them as failing to meet up to, never mind that they set them in the first place. Maybe, sadly, the time has come to hand over that baton to the likes of Rahane, Pujara, Menaria, Kohli, Rohit S and whoever else is in the wings – and give them the time, patience and understanding needed to get Indian cricket back where it belongs.

    • sidvee says:

      I would agree with you if these batsmen have been failing consistently over 2 years. In fact, I felt the line would have been apt for Ponting until recently. But Dravid had a phenomenal series in Eng and SRT has been batting consistently well right through the year (no hundreds notwithstanding). Laxman is sure having a lean patch. Also agree re giving younger players a long rope.

  13. Gom says:

    So long we are going to be a nation fixated with glorifying records and history and not having a single standard to recruit players or sack non-performers , we are going to have to do with gloating over home victories. Why don’t the media and fans call for the heads of Gambhir, Sehwag, Dhoni and dare I say, Tendulkar? Why only Dravid and Laxman?

  14. Ram says:

    Mojo Mojo…is the word….Bloody hell this team has lost its Mojo….Its 1990s again…..

  15. Shalini says:

    Thanks for giving expression to the collective anguish of a nation. Every morning of the three test matches so far, the nation has woken up to believe that this will be the day they are going to turn it around….just to end with that now all to familiar sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach at the end of the day!

  16. Shalini says:

    “all too familiar feeling” typo! Excuse please.

  17. duncan says:

    It’s difficult to hope for a sustained Indian revival when the “victim” mentality of Sydney 2008 persists. Yes, the umpiring was shoddy and the BCCI got it’s way with the removal of Bucknor(in itself an extraordinary act of bullying and pettiness), but the absolute fact remains that Michael Clarke was allowed to take three wickets in an over and THAT was what lost India the game. As Russ pointed out earlier, umpiring mistakes benefitted both teams and it is frustrating beyond belief that India(media and public) by and large refuse to acknowledge this.
    I hope they turn things around for Adelaide.

    • Yogesh says:

      The victims always tend to over-exaggerate the errors and the beneficiaries will downplay it. Nobody ever remembers or complains about luck going in their favour.
      If Indian media exaggerated in one direction, Australian media did it in the reverse. I did read both Indian & Aussie newspapers at that time and after a few days, gave up reading both for both were equally one-sided.

      That of course, doesn’t excuse the pathetic collapse to Clarke but in reverse, the collapse can’t cover up Bucknor’s mistakes too.

      The reason many Indians remember Sydney 2008 strongly is not just the result but because of the previous history with Bucknor which started in the 2003 series and continued. In fact, many who’d followed India-Bucknor history said even before the series that India is going to face trouble. Simon Taufel gave two horrible decisions against SRT & SG in Nottingham 2007 but nobody grudges Taufel. Okay, India won the test but it was also because the very next day, he agreed to his mistakes. It is amazing how people canonize Bucknor despite the 2007 WC goof-up. That should have been the end for Bucknor.

    • sidvee says:

      The reason for bringing up Sydney ’08 was to highlight the way the team fought back from Melbourne and to also highlight how they went on to continue the fightback at Perth. I had no intention of revisiting the controversy over the umpiring. And yes, India’s batting was poor in the second innings. But had the umpiring been competent, the game would have ended with a different result.

  18. karthikNYC says:

    @Duncan- Disagree-‘umpiring mistakes benefitted both teams’ Cant remember apart from Symonds dismissal in 2nd inns of Perth out of the whole series where umpiring had benifitted Indian team far from Sydney I’ve lost count but atleast 7 decisions went against us not least of which was when Symonds was @30 when your team was down&out for the count..instead that lucky cheat went on to score a big 100 which obviously put a win beyond the grasp but yes I agree with you that we LOST it in Clarke over when a draw was there for the taking..but the point is we were in a technically strong position to WIN it and hence the rancor and bad blood.No amount of sugar coating and rationalizing will ever compensate for the fact that we missed series wins in 2004 & 2008 due to the common culprit on both occasions,Mr Bucknor..need I say more..

  19. Blake from Oz says:

    Karthik NYC you are counting only the decisions against you and forgetting any in your favour (with a biased eye). Do you hear Australians whinging still about any decisions from past lost series around the world? No? No, you see them taking stock, making hard decisions & rebuilding so it can never happen again.

    Kumble is the biggest missing factor.

    He had the heart of a lion. Zaheer does not. Ishant does not. Yadav is too young to carry the rest with him.

    • karthikNYC says:

      Blake- buddy I totally agree with your comments word to word,not sure where the disagreement is ,my post was strictly in reference to umpiring blunders &the impact thereof.Well talking of generalities,absolutely there is need to rethink our test team big time..Dhoni is the root cause as are aging legends.Since most will go eventually within 6 months,my worry is about the younger lot.But trust me the new kids on the block,Kohli,Rohit,Pujara,Tiwari and Rahane are pretty good,as most of them have come up the hard way i.e.first class future as regards batting is promising.As you said,motivation and a passionate leader to guide them is missing,Dhoni is an utter disaster in that respect,so my bet is Kohli -has been a u-19 skipper and so not a bad choice..with this setup I am sure we will raise to the levels Ganguly&Kumble had brought us to..its just that under a defensive,uninspiring,unimaginative,disinterested Dhoni,every body has been shown up on their weaknesses which were covered somehow under Kirsten..we missed ‘those’ moments numerous times in Eng and in Oz (27/4?)

  20. Joshua says:

    Fantastic blog post. Amazingly well-written. As an Indian cricket fan, I say thanks.

  21. Yogesh says:

    I think India-Australia has always defined the Indian cricket team for me. Be it in the 1990s or 2000s, India-Australia series has defined the Indian team of that period. India has alway looked forward to and measured itself against the Aussies since 2001. So, I think this will hurt India more than English debacle for if India cannot rouse itself against Australia, who else ? As you say whatever one might term it, this Indian team has lost it..

    Pity that nobody remembers the great game at Sydney. How much would have Dhoni loved to have Sydney 2012 half as close as Sydney 2008 ?

    One month ago, RD was in great form. SRT was in decent form, VVS was expected to find form against his favourite foes and Ponting, came in with a sword over his head. The sword is probably still there but it hangs more ominously over VVS & RD. How the tables have turned ?

  22. An extremely fine post, this. I don’t think it would be wise on our part to expect any dramatic change in Adelaide. The right time to start the rebuilding process will be after the series is over. I think the most imp. difference between this side and the outfits in the last decade has been the absence of a captain who leads from the front. I have been a critic of MSD long before the England tour. You look at most great captains in the history of the game and you observe that they have produced stellar performances when the chips were down. Most fans and writers are besotted by MSD’s success, but when was the last time he turned around a match with his bat? Even in the WC Final, while his performance was of course brilliant, it was Gambhir who played the most imp. innings. Right till the Final, our ‘Captain Cool’ produced ordinary performances. And when it comes to Test cricket, he would lose his place in the XI if captaincy is snatched from him. So, IMO, to inject that intangible virtue, I think we need to begin by appointing a proven performer as our Test captain. Gambhir fits the bill perfectly, no?

  23. Sunil says:

    Dear Sid,

    Having actually watched live telecast of the Sydney test, I wondered at times, what you had to say about it. Frankly, to save all our time , the write-up was as disappointing as the Indian performance itself. ( I might have said it more pleasantly, but blame it on me )

    If There was anything surprising about the Indian performance, it was only in the damning non contest of the matches. Having watched them in England, it was as clear as daylight, they had nothing more to give, that the defeat down under was just a formality.

    The write-up is educated, but hardly holds an argument for anything, at all. I echo everything Karthikeya has said earlier on- seriously, it recalls everything with fond nostalgia and an insane sense of expectation, denying the natural curve in a sportsmanship career itself. Half the article is about 2008 series, and the other half is about showing a sign? What sign really?

    What is this corny idea of fight back? Why do we need fight back – you have a team of celebrated
    gods and demigods who have runs amongst them more than entire batting line up of many countries, experience that is more than many a test playing nations? Yet, we sit here and write about fight backs, why can’t they just go and destroy a side that’s basically made of people whose names we haven’t heard? But no! We have to think of the past comebacks.
    Amidst all we have missed out on another thing – yes, the return of Australia- not of Australia as such – but their idea of sports – as something that can be perfected with diligence and planning, not resting on adulation.

    What I would like to hear people discuss is where does indian cricket go from here? Do you think there are enough names to fill in the shoes of the batting line up, forget bowling. Do you think with all the lucrative mini formats , there is a system to produce and SUSTAIN a player in India who can actually bat a session confidently against quality opposition- not just hard dusted track in Gwalior but also the swinging stretch in Perth?

    That’s the sign I am looking for, but If a SRT can score a century in T20 and struggle to decently last a session in test, I think we both know where this is headed.


    • sidvee says:

      I pointed to comebacks because that’s been a common factor for the team during their away tours in the last decade. Also, I brought up Sydney and Perth in ’08 because they epitomized that quality.

  24. Very well written. Since you are talking about the spirit of the cricket, you have never accused a single player. If you really mean it when you say “I don’t care which eleven Indian players walk out at Adelaide.”, I envy you. It is a difficult feat for an Indian fan. What we miss is really a player like Anil Kumble, someone who gives 100 % to every ball he bowls.

  25. Very Well Put!! The “Desire”, the hunger in the belly has been missing. We went from bad to worse on the mental side starting with MCG. There is surely no lack of ability .. Sad way to surrender .. and even sadder way for the “seniors” to be phased out. They deserved a positive bow out .. and they have failed themselves .. Dravid, VVS & Sachin!!

  26. Abhishek says:

    Beautifully written. You provide all the reasons that our heart comes up with. However, just this once – I will disagree with you and endorse what Kartikeya has to say. It is a tough call and as viewers from the outside, we can only guess. But bouncebackabilty or whatever other intangible that is missing is not because of any lack of desire, but a limitation of the body of our ageing warriors. That is my opinion. Thanks for the piece.

  27. Rohan says:

    Ohh… These emotions….. You just leave me crying every single time I read your posts.. The problem with fans like us is we just never lose hope! After all the whining and “searching for answers” stuff, what we will do is get in front of the TV (if not at 5am) at 7 am for the Adelaide test and continue to follow the team AGAIN with the hope of a revival.. This hope man… Bloody Hope… I always say this line from Shawshank Redemption – Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies..!

  28. Jai says:

    The only thing india has lost – is the service of their awesome coach Gary Kirsten. I always thought a captain and coach are as good as the team, but i was wrong. The coach matters. Kirsten came in at a difficult time for team india and turned it around from that tour of aus in 2008 to the WC win in april.
    It has to be more than coincidence that the indian team has been in a steady state of decline ever since he left and the SA team is on top of its game(even though they have the same set of players as before)

  29. karthikNYC says:

    My 2 put it simply,major problem has been Dhoni,how can a team lose form in a heap all of a sudden..yes the 1st inns in Melbourne was the defining moment for the turn of fortunes.But what about losing initiative 214-6 and failing to grab it from 27/4 when offered on a platter..its simple,as Wasim and Maninder have articulated,pathetic field placings and atrocious tactics from Dhoni cost us a win there and Sydney was a familiar sight esp after confidence of team had taken a battering..failure to motivate players,lack of passion by Dhoni is not acceptable.Being cool is ok in ODIs where you dont always need to take 10 wickets to win a match..this is the critical element about Dhoni that has so nakedly come out lately which was covered up conveniently when Gary was around.They say top teams learn more when winning rather than losing..For instance,why didnt we win 2-0 in NZ despite on top,Dhoni spread the field for a full day allowing opposition to settle in and have a go at the target eventually losing time to rain on the final day with 2 wkts remaining ! Why didnt we win 2-0 against WI in WI and chicken out of a target which is not too daunting in these IPL days..I think the downfall of this lot started from there..utter lack of confidence and contentment with mediocrity has stripped the team of any fight in England..Sack the hopeless Dhoni if Indian test cricket is to survive,the legends will fade away eventually.Sehwag if pushed down the order will perform more often than not and bowlers they look good with Umesh,Aaron&Irfan around..

  30. Nathan of Perth says:

    To me, watching the Indian team this summer, it feels like whenever the match is in the balance, when we’re at the fulcrum points of the match and it is time for someone to stand up and make the difference, be it batting on or breaking a partnership, everyone in the lineup says ‘oh no, not me, not I, I don’t want this burden, someone else will do it’. There are moments, of course; Yadav in the second day of the WACA test for one, standing up and saying “this far, no further” and taking wicket after wicket was inspiring, but really the key moments to have swung the match in their favour had already passed them by, on the first day.

    I almost wonder if the aged players feel that as they have paid their dues they have nothing left to prove, so someone else can do the hard yards. How can you go-kart whilst your team’s success is burning down around your ears? It truly staggers me, as Australian bowlers have long lived in mortal terror of the Indian batting lineup but this summer there is nothing of that. In previous series when I saw Laxman come to the crease I would think, “Oh no! Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten the other batter out!” but now I just think, “Well this won’t take long.”

  31. shakester says:

    my kind of piece.

  32. Raj of Canberra says:

    I guess this entry looks great for an Indian supporter. But from a neutral’s eye, I find it biased towards India – i.e. the team has been praised beyond deserved and the mention of umpiring gaffes.

    The harsh truth is India has never been a great *team*. Tendulkar and Dravid are legends but no one else. Laxman has produced 15-20 good innings out of 220 tries (<10%) @ 46. Ishant averages 37 with the ball with a SR over 60. MSD has been lucky with his technique and giving the ball to Joginder in the T20WC. And as for umpiring decisions, do you think the Indians were the only ones on the receiving side? The Aussies also got decisions against them at Sydney. And do you have to be reminded of the shoddy umpiring visitors used to get facing spinners in the past era at India?

    Just take the CB tri-series which India won in 2008 as an example. In the last league game between India and SL, Murali had Dhoni plumb LBW but was shockingly not given. Dhoni went on to win the match for India which made the difference of India managing to reach the finals and win. That one wrong decision changed the landscape of Indian cricket – but do Indians remember it? No, they love whining when decisions go against them and also whine if the DRS is used. Australians are not like that. We take it on the chin and move on to fight back.

    This Australian side is still not good enough – but they worked damn hard. When they had a batting camp before the series, they were subjected to Indian pre-series ridicule. But one day or the other, hard work will pay off more than money.

  33. Raj of Canberra says:

    And a key fact seems to have been forgotten – since the 2001-02 series, India have NEVER faced a full-strength Australia! After that series, India faced McGrath only once and never faced Warne! Let’s have a detailed look:

    2003/04 : McGrath, Warne, Kasprowicz, Bichel injured. Series drawn 1-1. Aus bowling attack was Williams, Lee, Gillespie, McGill.

    2005/06 : Bracken, Warne, Ponting injured. Aus win 2-1 despite a 2-day loss at Mumbai turner.

    2007/08 : Warne, McGrath, Langer, Martyn, McGill retired. Bracken, Clark injured. Tait forced to play at Perth despite injury since Aus had a fast bowler injury crisis at that time. Hayden also injured for Perth and opening combo of Rogers-Jacques. WACA also not fast pitch. 2-1.

    2008/09 : Inexperienced Aus side due to continuing fast bowler crisis but first convincing series win for India 2-0.

    2010 : Severely depleted Aus side beaten 2-0 in India. Players like Peter George (struggling in state side now), Steve Smith, Marcus North (test discards) played considering Bracken, Lee, Johnson, Clark, Hilfenhaus, Bollinger all injured. Bollinger did play at Mohali after being rushed from the CLT20 and broke down during the match which meant Aus struggled win when they deserved to. If not for that injury, or the no-runners rule being implemented before for Laxman or for umpiring mistakes in the final innings, Aus would have won at Mohali and drawn series.

    2011/12: 3-0 with a game to play. Weakest Aus side ever.

    Sorry to disappoint you Sidvee, but I find India have not been as great as records show considering these factors. And also remember, India always get to play in Sydney and Adelaide which support spin and can get extremely flat pitches sometimes (literally Indian conditions). If India ever had to play at Hobart…I shudder to think of the possibilities.

    • karthikNYC says:

      @Raj- Not being too picky or anything but I doubt if you do follow Aussie cricket all that got the years all mixed up,the Mumbai turner was in the 2004 Oct return series in India not 2005-06.And also Bichel wasnt injured during 2003-04 series in Australia,he was very part of the squad..again 2007-08 in Australia, Clark wasn’t injured he played all games..Also you whine about umpiring errors in Mohali match,do you get it how it feels to have missed not one but TWO series wins owing to atrocious,shameful umpiring conspiracies,I don’t that call them errors coz Bucknor has always been a part of Aus squad whenever we play there😉 so it cuts both ways pal !

    • sidvee says:

      I don’t understand how all this relates to my post.

  34. Cherian Matthai says:

    Well written! Captures the exact essence – I am a stickler for patterns across series’ and thought that like last time after Melbourne and Sydney, we would bounce back but sadly didn’t.

    I became a believer in patterns because this team used to deliver on it. But now after England and Aus, we are back in the dark days of the 1990s when we used to discuss cricket in school.


  35. Nilesh says:

    Fantastic article, Sid.

    ‘Beauty means nothing if not infused with grit’ – perfectly sums it up. Instead of relying in glorious past, India needed to be on the toes to carry that *tag* of (former) number one Test cricket side.

    The only positive from series so far is – Virat Kohli & Umesh Yadav who showed some spunk.

    The honeymoon period is clearly over for Dhoni and hard reality of marriage has struck him now😉

  36. Shruthi says:

    Beautiful article, keep it up. I too miss that fighting spirit.

  37. vaidya says:

    Dravid’s innings in Sydney’08 summed up that series as much as his one in Perth in the second innings probably did it this time. With nothing going their way, the team was still willing to stick it out and give it back.

    In Perth he looked set for a 50 and even a 100. The pitch seemed to have eased out and the bowling was not as threatening as the previous evening when he was playing a missing and almost out of nowhere one sneaked in and he made it into the record books for most bowleds! In England they were up against an attack which was far superior to this one and they looked like they had no answers. Here, at times, they seem to be getting back but you just know it’s not going to happen. The Dravid-Kohli partnership for eg. They played through the whole hour of the 3rd day, but at no point did it raise memories of the Kolkata one. You just knew a wicket was going to happen. Like you said, that ‘hunger’ is missing and it looks very obvious looking at the way they play.

  38. Naveen Nair says:

    For Dhoni, i feel that one dialogue from The Dark Knight is slowly becoming true, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”

  39. Mee says:

    I dread thinking cricket now:(( – am still recovering from the smarting of England, and heaped on that is now Australia. When does this shyt end?? Where are the ballsy players? What has happened to the fire?? Surely the playing 11 are smarting too? So where is the fite? And why NO FITE??:(((

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