Slammed by many as one of India’s worst Test defeats, made only worse by the fact that it came at home to end their amazing unbeaten streak of 19 Tests, the Pune Test has shaken up the cricket fans in India. Australia were supposed to be steamrolled and they weren’t even supposed to be a threat.
Instead, India faced a 333-run defeat, a thorough humiliation as the batsmen collapsed like a pack of cards, their world-class spinners were out-bowled and their catchers dropped catches like hot potatoes. 64, 31 and 18 were the top three scores by Indian batsmen in both their innings put together.
Suddenly, the momentum is with Australia and they could dare to dream bigger, given they’ve probably already exceeded expectations by not only avoiding the widely-predicted 4-0 whitewash but also thumping India to win a game in India in more than a decade.
Here are five things India need to be careful about if they are to make sure they get their hands on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy:
#1 Batting collapses
This is the team that out-batted England in four of the five Tests. This is the same side that came from 0-1 to win 2-1 against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Yet, all that changed swiftly thanks to the left-arm spin of an unheralded spinner. The fragility is particularly because of Ajinkya Rahane’s poor form.
The usually ‘Mr. Dependable’ batsman had a poor England series too and looked out of touch in both innings against Australia (a half-century in Bangladesh probably didn’t do enough to get his touch back).
Lokesh Rahul has been a hit and miss opener who gives in to cricket’s weirdest impulses, his brain-fade in the first innings triggering the collapse that India never recovered from. Add to that the fact that India went in with only five specialist batsmen, a strategy that was unwise on a bad batting pitch, where four bowlers are good enough for the job.
India has the tendency of losing wickets in clusters and that was seen even against England. Thankfully, against England, there was always lower order resistance but this time that couldn’t happen. India needs to fortify its batting, going back to the 6+4 combination. Strangely, for once, batting and not bowling is a probable worry for India against a balanced Australian bowling attack!
#2 Not many batting options in the squad
India has only Karun Nair and Abhinav Mukund on the bench of which the latter will most likely not get a game unless there are injuries. An expected change is a swap between Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav. Despite that, Nair whose last outing was a world record, unbeaten triple ton, may not really have the experience to deal with the quality of Mitchell Starc.
It is never easy to walk into the side and perform after having been dropped despite a triple ton. He is still young in his career and will look forward to the opportunity but the fact that India doesn’t have too many other experienced batsmen waiting in the wings is a strange problem, especially if Rahane doesn’t regain his form.
Rohit Sharma will probably play for Mumbai this week and may open up a new option but that could be too late.
#3 Close-in catching
While Steve Smith scored a breathtaking century on a tough pitch in the third innings for Australia to virtually seal the match, it was India who gift-wrapped the innings for him. He was dropped four times, twice by Murali Vijay and twice by Abhinav Mukund.
Apart from one of those chances to Mukund at mid-on, these chances were sitters that were expected to be taken at the international level, but this is not a new problem. India has been poor with their catches all season with England batsmen regularly getting reprieves from close-in catchers not long ago. It is hard to see why the habit has crept in and how it could be done away with.
Nevertheless, India cannot afford to keep dropping batsmen of the class of David Warner, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb if they are to come back strongly from the defeat.
#4 Over-dependence on Kohli
When Kevin Pietersen tweeted that Kohli-out results in TV-off, he reminded a lot of fans of the 90s cricket when Sachin Tendulkar meant hope and he was the prized scalp for the opposition. India is over-dependent on Kohli despite its batting riches. Vijay and Pujara have shared the batting load well along with Kohli through the season.
Nevertheless, Kohli has become a psychological factor and probably the only player who can turn the tide of the game for India with aggression. Rahul is flamboyant but unreliable, and Vijay and Pujara have the habit of going off into their shell at times. Pujara has worked on that trait of his batting and tried a more positive approach against England with much success. He got a corker of a delivery in the first innings and put up some resistance in the second innings.
Nevertheless, India’s reliance on Kohli to impose themselves on the opposition is a worrying sign. This is where someone like Rohit Sharma could come in handy but the Mumbai batsman is inconsistent in Test cricket and is currently injured.
#5 DRS Conundrum
On the field, in the first Test against Australia, India got all four DRS reviews wrong. While batting, they got three wrong and only one correct. What makes this worrying is Kohli’s attitude towards DRS. He rarely seems to take wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha’s opinion and in DRS reviews, the wicket-keeper is the most important person.
He is generally excited about reviewing and goes for them more out of hope than out of genuine reason. He is also coaxed into reviews by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who are overtly excited about their close calls. In critical moments, especially on turning tracks in India, running out of DRS reviews is a problem.
Kohli needs to learn that the DRS reviews are firstly, to prevent howlers and need to be used as a tactical ploy only in dire scenarios.