India's freefall may continue

Before things get better, they may get worse for India.

India's MS Dhoni, right, congratulates Australia's cricket captain Michael Clarke.It’s no time to gloat. But we did tell you so.

Australia have been through their cycle of heartbreaks and defeats, and they are on their way up, thanks to a captain who has led by example, and a fine set of young pacers who have delighted the game’s connoisseurs recovering from the tragic suspensions of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.

Conversely, India are on their way down. It was poor planning and preparation in England. It is bad execution in Australia. The specific reasons for India’s implosion will emerge soon. But one thing is clear now: after each of their six straight defeats abroad, India have seemed decreasingly capable of dealing with the era of transition ahead.

India's old guns are swinging like rusty gates. Worse, they can't be replaced immediately, thanks to a faulty domestic system that creates flat-wicket bullies.

When you chew over that thought and let its bitter taste take over, you realise India’s freefall will be broken only by their successes at home. Away, there will be days worse than Sydney before things get better. 

Being Dhoni

The blame for the defeats lies at MS Dhoni’s feet.

For a moment, let’s consider what Dhoni has on his plate: captaincy, wicketkeeping and the job of scoring runs (in a perennially dire situation). These are three specialist jobs, each causing immense physical and mental drain. Then, there are the fan’s expectations.

Dhoni has peerlessly handled all these. You'd grant him his occasional failure, but it’s his repetitive mistakes as captain that cause the greatest amounts of frustration.

Cape Town, Dominica, and in too many other places to count, India looked victory in the eye and backed down. The defensive approach didn’t cost India games then. In Melbourne it did.

India won two tough Tests in Adelaide (2003-4) and Perth (2007-8) by sheer force of will, the desire to swim against the tide, against tough opposition in a foreign land. So far in Australia, India have melted at the first sign of resistance.

Batting Woes

Rahul Dravid: bowled thrice in four innings. The common thread in all of Virender Sehwag’s earth-shattering innings has been a rock-steady batting partner. It was Aakash Chopra at the other end in his two big knocks in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-4. It was Rahul Dravid when he pounded South Africa in Chennai and Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

The 2008-11 period was a productive one for India because Sehwag had Gautam Gambhir at the other end. Gambhir’s solidity and consistency allowed Sehwag the clutter-free environment he needs to succeed. But any semblance of that solidity is now gone, and it shows on Sehwag's scores. 

Gambhir and Dravid are battling technical problems. Gambhir’s once-productive dab through point is now killing him. What stands out in his dismissals is the T20-fuelled urge to get bat on every ball when he only needs to drop his arms and let the ball pass.

As for Dravid, his hands and eyes no longer align with the ball as flawlessly as they used to. There’s a hint of his head falling over to the off-side each time he’s been bowled on this tour.

It is not for mere mortals to dwell on Sachin Tendulkar’s weaknesses. He alone knows what consumes him whenever he’s in the vicinity of a milestone. As always, he’s proving to be India’s best batsman on an Australian tour. But the caution with which he starts to bat, when everything is going for him, can be baffling. And you don't need to have played 150 Test matches to detect that.

Rohit for Virat?

For the Perth Test, Rohit Sharma is the obvious replacement for Virat Kohli. Rohit plays the cross-bat shots better than his colleague from Delhi. It is clear that Virat, whose home ground is the slow, low Kotla, hasn’t been able to adjust to Test cricket.

After many years, VVS Laxman appears human again. We’d been too used to his super-human efforts in the direst circumstances – the 70-odd that would be the differentiator. Now, his rut coincides with India’s worst run in overseas Tests in a long, long time.

The failures of Laxman and the No. 6 (Raina in England, Kohli in Australia) increase the workload for Tendulkar (who’s never looked out of form as such) and Dhoni, who’s come out to bat with the side in trouble nearly every single time. The two have never had the cushion of a steady partnership.

Promise Not Kept

While Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have impressed, and Ashwin did his bit with bat and ball in both Tests, Ishant Sharma's wicket column continues to make a sorry reading.

"Hard-working", "thorough professional", "committed team man" are just a few phrases we hear being used by people who matter to describe the pacer. There were phases in Melbourne and Sydney where Ishant was tremendous. The ball that cut back to bowl Clarke in Melbourne was one of the highlights of the game. But for his poor luck, Ishant could have had some more wickets. 

That is the story of his career. When do we stop remembering Ishant for the odd penetrative spell, and start remembering him for annihilating a batting line-up?