In the first Test with England at Trent Bridge, our opponents were on the mat at 202-7. They had just 3 wickets left in their first innings and were trailing India by a good 255 runs. Then in a display of spineless Indian bowling that has become the norm on foreign pitches now, the Poms zoomed past us to make 496.
Sometimes a late order wicket may frustrate you, but this time a 78-run 8th wicket partnership was followed by a world record 198-run partnership for the last wicket. The problem is that it’s sort of becoming a pattern now.
Just a few months back this year, we got New Zealand all down for 192 in Wellington. Then we hit a fine 438 and had our opponents at an abysmal 94-5. Victory was ours, but things went horribly wrong for our bowlers after that.
The sixth wicket partnership took it to a whopping 446. While that could be seen as an aberration, lightning struck twice and then next wicket took it to 625! 94-5 to 446-6 to 625-7 has got to be one of the most spineless Test bowling performances of all time.
But at least we managed to draw both of these matches. Fans may remember Karachi in 2006. In his very first over Irfan Pathan took a hat-trick of the top batsmen of Salman Butt, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf to take us to 0-3, the best possible start one could hope for.
At 39-6, Indian supporters were already eying a victory but in the end we lost by a crushing 341 runs. Why did the Indian bowlers lose steam after that?
The fag end of an innings on a foreign pitch always brings out the worst in our bowling attack. South African is one of our worst hunting grounds when it comes to Tests. But it’s not like we never had the chances.
In 1997 in Johannesburg it looked all over for the Proteas when they were 95-7 chasing 356 for victory. The 8th wicket partnership took them to 228 and forced a draw.
2011 was even more heart-breaking. We were tied at 1-1 for the deciding third Test. In the second innings, South Africa was 98-5 after trailing by two runs in the first innings. It looked like we would get an easy target to
chase and win our first series 2-1.
But the tail more than tripled the above score to take it to 341 and the match meandered to another draw. Even at Durban last year, we set the Proteas a stiff target of 458 runs. At 197-4 the Indians sniffed a victory, but our opponents almost won finishing at 450-7 in the end.
For our fast bowlers many a times, getting out top and middle order batsmen is a piece of cake. Getting rid of the tail for a small total seems next to impossible. Why do we win so less Tests outside the sub-continent?
Some say it’s because of our batsmen who fail on green pitches.
But that has not been the case. Sunil Gavaskar flourished in the West Indies and Sachin Tendulkar prospered in Australia. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman could play match-winning knocks on the toughest of pitches. Virender Sehwag hit at least one brisk Test century in almost every part of the cricketing world.
Others say that we don’t have genuine fast bowlers who can exploit fast pitches.But from 1968-71, we won series on the soils of New Zealand, West Indies and England. We won three Tests in a series on Kiwiland, a feat we have not achieved anywhere outside India. West Indies were the world champions and England had just returned from a successful world Test tour.
That time fast bowlers in India were an imaginary species. How many times has our bowling attack taken 16-17 wickets on foreign pitches only to fall apart trying to get the last 3-4? Even our world-classspinners cannot at times even prise out one wicket on worn out fifth day pitches.
It’s always the tail. Team India has in it to win many Tests on green pitches but just doesn’t know how to deliver the knockout punch at the end of the Test.Is it mental toughness? Is it fatigue and tiredness? Is it a case of choking at the last step?
Till the team management figures out this conundrum, Team India is doomed to forever fail on foreign pitches. Even the occasional glorious Test victory in tough countries like Australia and Co. is being denied to us after 2011.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here