When the New Zealand landed in India for a two-Test series, they were thought to be pushovers. As it turned out, the Kiwis might have lost 2-0, but they exposed the chinks in the Indian armour that probably needs a refit ahead of the two home series against England and Australia this winter.
No doubt, the Indians were expected to sweep the series which they did in a convincing fashion, but Taylor’s men landed a few punches that did hurt. While our bowlers preyed on the known weakness of Kiwi batsmen against spinners, some of India’s senior players, notably the willow-wielders, were a total let-down.
It was India’s first Test series in a long while without a Dravid or a Laxman. The two young guns, Pujara and Kohli, did a fair job with a century apiece and if they continue in the same vein, it would be a long while before they could be disturbed, though we cannot say the same about Raina, the other youngster in the middle-order.
At the post-match press conference in Bangalore after the second Test, Dhoni was at pains defending his side while clearly hinting that it was unlikely there would be any changes in the overall composition for the series against England. He preferred to take a lenient view of Raina’s reckless shot in the second innings, saying it was his (Raina’s) way of dealing with pressure in contrast to Kohli’s approach of soaking it in.
In the same breath, Dhoni lent support to openers Sehwag and Gambhir despite their continuing flop show while rightly insisting that Sachin should be left alone despite three consecutive failures in the series.
As for Sehwag and Gambhir, I wonder whether Dhoni has had time to look at the facts that suggest neither batsman has been in good form and that it is about time to decide whether the openers should head back to domestic cricket and work their way back into team on the basis of form rather than reputation or hope.
Take the case of Gambhir. It has been 39 innings since he scored a century the last of which was against Bangladesh in January 2010. He has hit just nine half-centuries while on 26 occasions, the left-hander has failed to score 30 or more.
As for Sehwag, he has gone through 30 innings without a century and during that period, has crossed 50 just nine times and not scored more than 30 in 26 innings. No doubt, he has been affected by injuries, yet the fact remains that his form has nose-dived.
If these figures do not reflect failure, then I rest my case for a change at the top, even if temporarily. Dhoni did make a significant statement regarding Gambhir when he said that the Delhi player was batting well in the nets, but has to do so in a match. The same can be said of Sehwag who believes, despite repeated failures, that to him, there is only one way to bat and that factors like technique and temperament are for the coaching books.
The big question is: Who will bell the cat? Do the selectors have the courage to talk to Sehwag and Gambhir and show them the stats? I am pretty sure that both batsmen are mature enough to know that their batting is steadily going south, and that there are some hungry youngsters on the bench, biding their time.
Raina too did not escape scrutiny and his second innings rush-of-blood charge was as irresponsible as Sehwag’s earlier in the day. It is all fine to talk about counter-attack, but at the highest level, discretion does matter, for after all, we are not talking about facing schoolboy bowling. Jeetan Patel may never become a great spinner, but he is nobody’s fool either; under-estimate him (like Sehwag and Raina) at your own peril.
I am not sure whether Raina will ever be able to shake off the tag of non-Test player in view of his success in the shorter formats of the game. There were moments in the Test series when he gave in to impetuosity or low-percentage shots that cost him his wicket. Perhaps, he should take a leaf out of Kohli's book.
The spotlight also played on Sachin and his three dismissals, all bowled neck and crop, have become a subject of heated discussion. Most of us are not even qualified to speak about technique, but can only throw numbers which at best only present one side of the coin.
Sachin’s last century came 25 innings ago and since then, he has scored only six half-centuries while being dismissed under 30 no fewer than 14 times, including thrice in consecutive innings in the recent series against the Kiwis.
A longish break from international cricket when he opted out of ODIs has led to rustiness in his batting (and I am quoting no less a man than Gavaskar), but in the second innings, he looked to be on the way to regaining his form until he played all over to be bowled third time in a row.
You and I might want Sachin to call it a day and wonder about his slowing bat speed or reflexes or failing eyesight or whatever. But I would rather that he takes the call. At least we owe him that much respect and space.
There are two more months before the next Test series as the cricketers get into coloured uniform for another round of ball bashing. That gives us all time to reflect not just on Sachin, but also the young guns in the Test side.