<b>Close-in:</b> Second time lucky?
But India certainly has to fine tune its game
The clichéd term “I told you so,” seems so appropriate after India’s disappointing loss against Australia in the 1st Test match in Pune. My earlier article on the eve of the match highlighted the preparation of the present Australian side and their possible win.
The way the Australians approached the series showed the benefits of systematic analysis and in-depth thinking. The first and foremost change was their mental approach. It was completely different from their previous visits. Earlier the Australian contingent consisting of former and present players, as well as their press, made forceful statements about their aggressive attitude and the way they would destroy a specific individual and finally the team. In this visit, they have shown a completely different side of themselves. Rather than being seen as Goliath they made it a point to be seen as David. They showcased a demeanour of a humble, inferior and a struggling side compared to the opponents they hoped and wished to conquer. Even after their victory, the taste of success has not changed their approach, as each of their players are consistently speaking on the greatness of team India and some of their star players. The Indian team needs to see beyond this and develop a focused approach that sends a strong message to the Australian side about their winning intentions.
The 2nd Test in Bangalore, one hopes, will have a better wicket than the one that they played on in Pune. Test cricket is a five-day affair and even if a turner was the order of the day, the wicket should be such that it lasts for the full duration. A wicket that on inspection on the first day had experts commenting of it being an eight days old strip does not augur well in popularising Test cricket. Although the idea of having Test matches at smaller centres is good, the matches have not been able to attract huge crowds of cricket enthusiasts to the stadiums. The limited overs format has spoilt the cricket lover, as at present spectators want to see explosive cricket and a definite result in a short period. The comfort of watching at home on the box is also a reason for the meagre turnout. BCCI will need to find some innovative ways to get crowds to the grounds or else Test cricket will gradually die from the lack of spectators. One can see this quite evidently in domestic cricket wherein a crowd of 1,000 people would be termed as “wow”.

The Bangalore Test should be an interesting battle between the two sides. Australia have shown that their positive approach in countering the Indian spin bowling attack has proved to be a success. They have also established that one of their weak spots, spin bowling, has now become their strength. The lower middle order batting is the only area that they seem to be vulnerable in and for India, the quicker they attack the middle order, the better it will be for them. India on the other hand have not looked like a batting unit that enjoys the turning surface. Although they have won several matches earlier in such conditions, Virat Kohli’s early dismissal has shown that all is not as well as one imagined. Being brought up with a plethora of limited over games, the Indian batsmen are struggling to play late, with soft hands and lack the ability to place the ball with subtle wrists movements. On a sharp spinning wicket, a batsman has to judge length very astutely and thrusting the pad forward without doing so can get one into deep trouble. The Indian batsmen seem to be making this elementary mistake and need to quickly adapt and become nimble in their footwork. They should be looking for singles rather then becoming flamboyant with their stroke play on a turning track with unpredictable bounce.
Technology such as the DRS (review system) has made the batsman’s life quite difficult. The umpires earlier were reluctant to give an LBW decision on the front foot. The umpteen reviews and feedback have shown that in many cases the ball was hitting the stumps. The irony of it is that bowlers who are basically rollers, have become deadly on getting an occasional turn. Ravindra Jadeja, Rangana Herath and Stephen O’Keefe are three prime examples. Their only aim is to be accurate and hit the batsman’s pad. The modern batsmen are struggling to find the right technique to counter this. The bat and pad defence that the coaches have taught batsmen to adopt, since the last several decades could be the culprit. The DRS is not enforced in either school or domestic cricket and so batsmen are comfortable at that level playing the conventional way. The sudden change required because of the DRS, at the highest level of Cricket makes them vulnerable and uncertain. This is the major reason why bowlers have become kings with the assistance of technology on an under prepared or on a worn out wicket. The generation of batsmen who played on uncovered wickets were known to play with their bat in front of their thin non-protective pads. The present batsmen may have to go back in time and follow the old forgotten approach to become successful.

Catches win matches. India still does not have their close-in fielding in place. There is a lot of practice and thought required to be a good close catcher. One has to adopt one’s own plan to be effective. This comes through many hours of understanding one’s stance, agility, reflexes and strengths. Watching players take catches with protective gloves without a thought on why they are doing it, is the first weakness. The feel of the ball hitting your raw palms and fingers is different when the ball is new, wet or old. Therefore, practicing with gloves, makes the catcher miss the basic feel of the ball. The brain needs to get habituated to send the correct signal and having been unused to the correct feel of the ball, results in dropping a simple catch. The Indian side needs to improve its close fielding or till then, one hopes all the catches go towards Ajinkya Rahane, the only specialist.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
Yajurvindra Singh