The noise around Sachin Tendulkar's much-missed milestone hundred has hijacked bigger issues.
Gautam Gambhir hasn't scored a Test hundred in nearly two years. Rahul Dravid's defence isn't what it used to be. That superhuman innings which only VVS Laxman knows how to produce hasn't arrived in India's last five Tests abroad.
MS Dhoni continues to show how ill-equipped he is to bat in pace-friendly conditions, or in landing the finishing moves when his opponents are on the mat. And Duncan Fletcher must be wondering what he needs to do to win a Test match in Australia. As coach, he's lost the last 10 out of 11 Tests there — a staggering statistic diluted little by his Ashes success of 2005.
In Mumbai Mirror, Sriram Veera dissects Gambhir's problems — how the off-side dab which brought him loads of runs has now become his weakness:
These days, if you have to think of Gautam Gambhir, you will picture him pushing tentatively away from his body, feet stuck at the crease, bat hanging dangerously in the air without much intent. It’s the shot that has repeatedly led to his downfall in the recent months, including in the first Test at Melbourne.
What’s fascinating is that it’s this same shot, the dab to third-man so to speak, that was the most telling feature of Gambhir’s transformation into a quality Test player. There was a time early in his career when critics felt the stroke proved why he could never succeed at the highest level.
But instead of shelving a shot that was proving to be his downfall, like most players do, Gambhir chose to perfect it, and went on to score eight hundreds in ten Tests after his maiden century.
But the wheel of fortune has come full circle. The dab is once again dragging him back to the dark days.
Dravid was bowled thrice in Melbourne (once off a no-ball). Wayne Smith in The Australian points out that this has happened six times in Dravid's last 10 Test innings:
... in a figurative sense, the sledgehammers are being taken to the once near-impenetrable defence built by the Indian batting great. So protective of his stumps has Dravid been throughout his 161-Test career that he has become known as The Wall. Lately, however, chinks are appearing in that barrier. The Wall has become, as colleague Peter Lalor tweeted this week, more of a picket fence.
Sunil Gavaskar, the last Indian captain to win a Test in Melbourne, displayed unusual candour in saying it doesn't seem India will win this series.
In England also, there was only in the last innings of the fourth Test that India managed to get to 300 despite having batsmen with a total fo 40 to 50,000 runs under their belt.
Over here as well, in both innings they didn't get close to 300. In the second innings, on a pitch which had not even detiorated, they did not even bat 45 overs. So, yes, the alarm bells are ringing very, very, very loudly.
Captains ... are under pressure. They need help, guidance, they need a vice captain or a senior player to come to them with suggestions. I don't think Dhoni is getting that.
Everybody is in their own cocoon. That's where Dhoni needs a lot more interaction from the group itself. We didn't see that in England where there were signs where guys were doing their own thing.
Asked if India should forget about winning this series after the Melbourne Test, the former captain said, "I think so, yes. I will be happy to be proven wrong, but short answer, yes."
Moving to the Sydney Test that starts Tuesday. The buzz is that the wicket would be similar to the ones prepared for England and Pakistan. They offered seamers plenty of help on Day 1 before beginning to turn later. There's talk of Australia fielding a four-man pace attack, but most including Mark Waugh, feel that would be a folly.
The SCG curator Tom Parker told Cricinfo:
I was happy with that [pitch for the game against England] and I was happy with the previous year's as well [against Pakistan]. The last two years we've really got it together and it has really come up well. I'm hoping to have a pitch somewhat similar to that. That's the ideal scenario and that's what we're aiming for. I don't see why that won't happen. The weather's been kind to me and the forecast is for hot sunny days in the lead-up to the Test and the first couple of days of the Test, so I don't see why it shouldn't be perfect for us.
Finally, on Tendulkar's impending milestone, Ted Corbett writes in The Hindu:
If you happen to meet Sachin Tendulkar, perhaps in George Street, Sydney, this weekend wish him good luck but please don't mention that century. He ought to be in batsman's heaven but in truth he must feel he is starring in a nightmare.
He is at the top of his game even though he is 38, an age for a top sportsman to rest the feet. Instead he is still harnessed to cricket, scoring runs aplenty but not at the right time or in the right measured quantities.
At the same time India, the team he has led, who need his full attention and rely on him to be world champions are in trouble. They must win Tests if they are to climb back to the top of the tree where they rested from the moment Australia lost Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and reverted to ordinary.