Indian openers' double failure a blot on team's success

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 27, 2013 10:13 hrs

Just about three months ago India won the first Test of the four-match contest against England only for the visitors to take the next two on their way to winning a series in this country for the first time in 28 years. Now India have again won the opening encounter of a four-Test series against Australia but it is highly unlikely that there will be a reversal of fortunes this time.
Simply put this Aussie team cannot be compared to the side led by Alastair Cook. In fact Michael Clarke's team is the weakest Australian team to visit these shores since Kim Hughes' side in 1979. That squad was badly hit by defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and the present team is obviously badly hit by the recent retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey and injuries to other key players. 

Their recent record in India too is against them. Of the last eight Tests they have played in this country, India have won six while two have been drawn. Also it is clear that Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men have got their act together and are determined not to repeat the mistakes they made against England.
Clarke has got a team woefully short on experience, and in Indian conditions especially against the turning ball, they are all at sea and one cannot see much improvement in the remaining three Tests. The scores in the Chennai Test tells the story best for the contributions came largely from two players, the skipper himself and the debutant Moises Henriques. 

Shane Watson and David Warner from whom much was expected got starts but failed to get going. Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and Matthew Wade were found wanting and their lack of skill, technique and patience does not augur well for them. The most alarming aspect is that there no adequate replacements among the reserve bench.
It is always good to play to your strengths and the Aussie think tank did the right thing in going in with three pacemen even on a surface that encouraged spinners from day one. After all great bowlers, whether pace or spin, have succeeded in India and the present squad can take encouragement from the deeds of Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson, Graham McKenzie, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie who enjoyed considerable success on Indian pitches. 

A lot has been said and written about the Aussies lacking a second spinner on the Chepauk surface but to be candid who do they have? With their leading spin bowler Nathan Lyon being treated so harshly one wonders how Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell or Xavier Doherty would have fared. 

Smith has taken three wickets in five Tests at 73.33 apiece while Doherty's figures are even worse - three wickets in two matches at an average of 102. Maxwell is yet to play a Test while there was never any realistic chance of the 19-year-old slow left arm bowler Ashton Agar making the squad despite making a promising beginning in the two pre-Test games. Indeed he is back in Australia playing first class cricket.
There is no point in including a spin bowler just on the basis of the surface. He must be a quality spinner and there is serious lack of quality in the touring squad as far as this mode of bowling is concerned. Even the great Shane Warne was not quite successful in India picking up 34 wickets in nine Tests at 43 apiece. 

Clarke one supposes will just have to soldier along with his pace quartet and hope that will rise to the occasion. If an extra spinner is included at the expenses of a pacemen the runs could come even faster given the fact that Indian batsmen are arguably the best player of spin bowling. A cursory glance at Lyon's ragged figures in the Chennai Test will augment this view. In any case it is unlikely that the visitors will come across another pitch similar to the one at the MA Chidambaram stadium in the three remaining Tests.
Besides having to depend on his pacemen for wickets Clarke can only hope that his batsmen come good. In Warner and Watson the Aussies have two class acts, it's just that they have to deliver. Clarke himself is one of the leading batsmen in world cricket and is in rip roaring form and can be expected to score consistently. Henriques is an exciting discovery and one can say with some confidence that his performance in Chennai was not a one-off.  
For the Indians they have very little to worry. The only blot on an otherwise professional show was the double failure of the openers. They will also have to assess whether Pragyan Ojha will be a better option than Harbhajan Singh especially in his home town. But otherwise it was a performance that was highly satisfying and one that brought a lot of cheer to home fans after the disappointing show against England. 

Particularly gratifying was the batting of the middle order with everyone coming off. Ravichandran Ashwin shrugged off his mediocre showing against England and proved beyond doubt that he is the No 1 spin bowler in the land while Ravindra Jadeja made his place secure for the rest of the series. 

The skipper himself struck a purple patch with the bat and Sachin Tendulkar's return to form was timely and most welcome. It is hoped that on more responsive pitches the pacemen too will be among the wickets. All in all it could well be that happy days are here again for Indian cricket.

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