March 4, 2017

India's hunger under test

As Kohli's side look to rebound from the Pune debacle, they will have to improve their technique against spin and their close-in catching
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Virat Kohli has the competitiveness to bounce back, but he needs support from his team © AFP

It is hard to win in sport but it is even more difficult to maintain a standard of excellence over a long period.

The Indian cricket team has managed to reach and retain a high standard of play under the leadership of Virat Kohli, but in Pune they faltered badly. The most confounding aspects of India's calamitous loss were the passive way they succumbed to the left-arm orthodox spin of Steve O'Keefe and their fumble-fingered attempts at catching in the close-in positions.

For many years it has been accepted that Indian batsmen play spin bowling better than most. On the evidence of Pune, that is now a myth. If batsmen continually allow an accurate spinner to maintain the length he wants to bowl on a helpful pitch, then disaster is sure to strike.

KL Rahul was one Indian batsman who adopted an aggressive outlook. He was enjoying mounting success until his adventurous shot-making outweighed reason. Under the conditions provided in Pune, batsmen needed to utilise calculated aggression rather than a knockout-blow approach.

For many years it has been accepted that Indian batsmen play spin bowling better than most. On the evidence of Pune, that is now a myth

A crucial part of batting in Pune-type conditions is knowing what is possible against each bowler and, just as importantly, what will be the most dangerous shots. Armed with that knowledge, batsmen should then try to keep the percentages slightly in their favour when deciding which shots to play.

Rahul's attempted lofted shot was badly timed, given the field was back, his shoulder was damaged and India's position in the match was on a knife-edge. This was the time to further frustrate O'Keefe by utilising the deep-set field to pick off singles - a surgically dissected approach rather than striving for nuclear devastation.

Following Rahul's dismissal, India's cause went from bad to worse in a short time and O'Keefe's confidence shot through the roof.

With India's chances of victory tumbling like an upended downhill skier, their fielding needed to be brilliant in Australia's second innings. Instead it was abysmal and Australia raced away with the match.

India's sloppy close-in fielding in Pune would have appalled the likes of Eknath Solkar © AFP

Any fielder can drop a catch, but it was the lack of anticipation and faulty technique that seemed so out of place in catching positions where India once used to excel. If Eknath Solkar were still alive, he would have been appalled at the botched attempts to catch reasonably straightforward chances close-in on the leg side.

On the evidence of the last couple of years it would appear that the IPL has brought about a rapid improvement in India's outfielding and an equally quick decline in close-in catching standards.

The Pune experience could become a blip on the radar screen or the first indicator of a downhill slide for India. Their fate rests in the hands of the players and the approach of the captain.

Kohli is a lead-from-the-front kind of captain, but he must be expected to have the odd failure and Pune was a time for the other batsmen to pick up the slack. He will need help in restoring India's reputation.

The Pune experience could become a blip on the radar screen or the first indicator of a downhill slide for India

The first thing the Indian batsmen must do in Bengaluru is acknowledge this Australian attack is all-round the best they have faced lately. Australia might only have two front-line pacemen but they are both top-class and Nathan Lyon and O'Keefe are genuine spinners, as distinct from England's part-timers.

India need to produce some batten-down batting rather than the expansive buffet batting that is appropriate during first-innings scores that exceed 500. They must also uncover a way to dismiss the prolific Steven Smith cheaply. Catching the first chance he offers would be a promising start.

India have tasted success regularly and experienced its addictive qualities. A key to staying on top is to quickly recover from a reversal. We'll find out in Bengaluru if India are still hungry for more success or satiated.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ahmad on March 14, 2017, 3:26 GMT

    Finally a Great article on quality of content & expression., Perfect. He addressed all the issues & proposed appropriate solutions. Even though I had been a strong critic of Chappel's mindset earlier.

    The best thing is he differentiated the fine line b/w aggression & over aggression. Positivity is best approach in general but for certain pitch conditions or match situations aggression is the way to go but over aggression always backfires.

  • Ashoke on March 8, 2017, 1:16 GMT

    Some of the Indian players behaviour was disgusting. Ishant was for one. Kohli should try to behave as a captain. Or else make Ashwin or Puzara the captain of India. Dhoni was really missing, not as a WK though. Saha did a very good job.

  • James Green on March 7, 2017, 11:27 GMT

    it is being said for a long time that indian batsman play spin better than batsmen from other countries .the actual truth is india play the spinners who flight the ball very well but not the spinners who bowl flat. india have played warne murali quadir etc very well these spinners flight the ball but have struggled against spinners like underwood quasim tauseef etc spinners who bowl flat. warne realised this only in his 3rd tour of india and did not flight the ball much with better rewards.

  • gobind8630155 on March 6, 2017, 22:39 GMT

    Indians were excellent players of spin. Now days they are very good player of spin. Of current batsmen, I cannot imagine how they will come against likes of warne, saqlain or murali. Current, team does not play Ranji trophy on turning tracks. They play t20 where hard hands is important then playing with soft hands. This weakness is clearly exploited by Swann, Monty, Hearth, lyon and O'keefe. Home ranji matches have moved to neutral grounds so that home advantage is not there with different types of tracks. Scores of 700, 600 were quiet common in the duleep trophy which gives false hope. Indian team have to go back to basics and probably you tube to watch how azhar,sachin, sehwag,dravid or laxman played the spin. Getting to pitch of the ball and playing the ball from where it came with straight bat using wrists to find placement rather than force 2 find placement. Playing w8 soft hands in defense waiting 4 ball rather then pushing 4 ball with hard hands. So, honestly, back to basics

  • Sudhakar on March 6, 2017, 13:01 GMT

    I kind of agree and disagree with Ian. In my view, Indians in-general play spin well *EXCEPT* when it's not an up-and-down pitch or when there is too much unpredictability about the pitch. On those unpredictable wickets, they do tend to panic and it will be quite shocking to see how these players are rated high. This is an aspect of Indian cricket that has baffled me for a long time. Since the time I'm following cricket closely, I can recall several collapses even against ordinary spinners - with most memorable ones being the collapses in Mumbai vs Doug Bracewell (1990s) and Shaun Udal (early 2000). Nevertheless, I still tend to think that of all cricketing nations, Indian batsmen do play spin better. Its quite beautifully reflected in the averages of Warne & Murali - two of the finest spinners that the world has produced in the last 2 decades - vs. India. In my view, the failures vs spin by the Indian batsmen have more or less been aberrations and not really a feature of their batting

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on March 6, 2017, 10:48 GMT

    The quality of fielding is rather poor that was noticed from time to time when you have spin as potent weapon when this was not backed by excellent fielding that too close in fielders this was lacking the number of catches they drooped even in slips that too regulation catches was quite evident in recent test matches unless you improve this weakness you can't win matches .Rahul batting in first innings at Pune , he was only set batsman , the bowlers are bowling to set field because he has the tendency to hit lofted shots he just fell into the trap that may be turning point in Pune's debacle .The coach should give lot of emphasis on some finer points of the game so that that can be made use off in case of adversity . If look at video how Gilchrest & Langer played in Hobart test against Pakistan in 1999 for winning cause certainly lot of things can be understand . To win any match planning as well as execution is important that was lacking in Pune that was cause for downfall

  • Owais on March 6, 2017, 6:57 GMT

    @CricMystique: 100% agreed with your comment - its skills, dedication and humility that has brought Indian cricket to this level. Future is unknown. Having said that, I think Kohli is quite aggressive but I do not think he lacks humility or respect for his opponent. I think he is a great player and good leader. With his level of skills, one can afford to be a bit arrogant at times - he has earned it !!!

  • CricMystique on March 6, 2017, 5:38 GMT

    @ __PK ON MARCH 4, 2017, 22:58 GMT - good comment and as an indian i do agree to a certain extent,...but if you've cared so much about indian cricket to comment on the histronics displayed by the current lot, perhaps you'd care enough to comment positively on our way of playing - exemplified by a fantastic lineage of gentlemen like the amarnaths, the pataudis, ranji, umrigar, sunil, vishy(who actually called bob taylor back in the bombay test of 1979 and this becoame the turning point in our loss), kapil, srinath, sachin, anil, rahul, azhar, vvs, veeru to name just a few, played with exemplary sportsmanship, passion yet dignity, intensity yet with respect, a distinct indian charm and way of playing, a pity that the behaviour of the current lot shaped your perception, not our way of playing at all....and the same going on such blogs with the legions of fake india pretenders spoiling it ....cricinfo plz publish

  • Ramon on March 5, 2017, 13:32 GMT

    Catches win matches. You don't drop a batsman who averages 60 over more than 50 tests without dire consequences. It is extremely mentally deflating to a team when easy catches are dropped in tight situations. If the chances Smith gave had been taken, the match situation and mental balance of the first test would have changed from Aussie dominance to a more even keel-- and India's subsequent batting mindset and performances might well have been better. Hindsight is the clearest sight and Chappell got it right about what India need to do.

  • Raghuraman on March 5, 2017, 13:22 GMT

    He is a bit late - Indian batsmen struggled against incoming deliveries ALL the time. I wonder if we have hit out against offies Murali/Swann/Saqlain :o Dravid-Sachin clean bowled dismissal off successive deliveries against Akthar is well known.

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