Victories and defeats are part of the ‘game’, but what hit India at Pune was more than just a defeat. It was an event that was never experienced before. 105 and 107 all-out came very close to the 100 and 66 all-out at Durban in December 1996. Pune and Durban had many ‘score’ similarities.
In Durban, South Africa managed just 235 in their first innings before India were shunted out for a paltry 100. South Africa then held on for 259 in their second essay before smashing India out for just 66 in the second. The biggest difference (other than just the opponent) was the venue, which is why Pune pinches more.
Such high impact events can demoralise a team, but as the adage goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This Indian unit is a tough nut. We have seen over the last couple of years how an odd defeat doesn’t derail this unit.
Like coach Anil Kumble put it yesterday, “I don’t want to look back. We are here to look ahead.” How true! There’s no reason India cannot bounce back at Bangalore and do the same in style – a thumping 300-run win or an innings win. Here’s what the team needs to do to make that happen:
#1 – Do not make dramatic changes to the playing XI
There are quite a few players under pressure after the Pune drubbing. Unfortunately, some of them have been under pressure for some time now, but the team’s success had beautifully cushioned their failures. KL Rahul played the most audacious shot in the first innings of the Pune Test.
One school of thought suggested he played his part before making one horrific mistake. The other school of thought suggests he should never ever have attempted that kind of a shot, especially considering it was a difficult pitch where shot-making was not necessarily on. Plus, with the partnership building between Rahul and Rahane, there was every opportunity to grind the spinners down and take control.
Remember the 1998 Test between the same opponents at Chennai when Sachin, Dravid and Azharuddin blunted Shane Warne and Gavin Robertson to win the famous opening Test at Chennai? India missed a similar opportunity thanks to the reckless shot selection of Rahul, but does that mean he should be axed? Definitely not.
Agreed he has played Test cricket like T20 but he deserves one more chance, at least in front of his home crowd. So is the case with the likes of Rahane and Murali Vijay. They are seasoned campaigners and one bad defeat shouldn’t lead to the ‘axe effect’.
If anything, they can consider replacing Jayant Yadav with Amit Mishra. That change is not to suggest Jayant is a bad choice, but to present Amit Mishra’s case as a better one. So, just the one change – Amit Mishra to come in for Jayant Yadav.
#2 – Be aggressive in the first session whether batting or fielding
The first session is going to be super crucial when it comes to the Bangalore Test. It will be an opportunity to reassert the ‘season’s supremacy’. The opening session at Chinnaswamy will be an opportunity to prove that the 19-Test unbeaten streak before Pune was no aberration. Rather, Pune was one.
For this, India need to be aggressive, super aggressive from the word go. If they are batting first, a session of 120 for 1 or better can be the perfect way to a recovery. Do not allow the Aussie bowlers to dictate terms. Use your feet against the spinners and do not allow them to settle into a rhythm.
If the team’s bowling first, three Aussie wickets for under a 100 would be very ideal.
#3 – Fans for cheerleaders
Several years ago, when Arsenal were leading Middlesbrough 4-0 inside the first 30 minutes in an EPL fixture, many Borough fans decided to leave the ground prompting legendary commentator Martin Tyler to question their commitment as fans. Tyler had said, “How can you call yourselves fans if you do that?”
A team needs its fans the most during a crisis and not during wins. We, as fans, need to do exactly that. Pack the Chinnaswamy on the first day of the Test match and root for our team from the word go. We do not want Kohli to ‘prompt’ the support. Let’s do it voluntarily.
We can have dual winners in the process – Indian cricket team and Test format.
#4 – Catch well
I’m definitely not trying to bore you into believing ‘catches win matches’. In India’s case, over the last 10 Tests, catches didn’t win matches, yet we kept winning. I read up an analytical story on ESPNCricinfo, which talked about how India’s poor catching in recent home series’ has been covered up by wins.
Against an opponent like Australia, it was the inevitability that caught up. 23 dropped catches in 10 Tests. Now, that’s not an alarming ratio considering we are dropping no more than 2.3 catches per Test match, but for a team that enjoys a stupendous unbeaten run, it, at least, is a chink in the armour.
These little things are bound to catch up at some stage. Fortunately for India, the catch-up happened in the first Test of a series and when it was least expected. Time to do some course correction. Slip and close-in fielders need to inspire. More than tactical changes, we need to come up with a strategic initiative.
The need of the hour is to build specialist slip fielders. Rahane is a very good slip fielder and needs to be nurtured. We need more Laxmans, Dravids and Azharuddins and this cannot happen overnight. This is the time to lay the foundation so we can be ready when travelling to England in just over a year’s time.
Otherwise, Nasser Hussain will taunt us by asking if we had butter chicken for dinner! For the moment, pull off a blinder in the slips or the close cordon and that would do it.
#5 – Feel good
It is never easy to ask someone to feel good about a defeat, but remember these things happen in cricket. Indian cricket is in the middle of an amazing run, one that has been built on solid foundation.
To put it in stock market terms, Indian cricket is in a long-term bull market and what happened in Pune was a sharp and ferocious correction, which is so typical of a bull market correction. Just brush it off and restart the rally. For that, the feel-good factor is very important. Just feel good about the ‘19-match run’ and not the ‘1 defeat’.
#6 – Get DRS right
Last but not the least. India have got it all wrong with the DRS simply because they’ve got the basics absolutely wrong. One of the funda’mental’ rules (read flaws) of the DRS is the ‘Umpire’s call’ and this is where India get it wrong. It takes a LOT to overturn an umpire’s call, especially on the turning tracks of India.
90% of LBW decisions are likely to be umpire’s call and you are certain to waste a review by going for one. It is surprising that Wriddhiman Saha has not been assertive behind the stumps when it comes to taking crucial DRS calls. He needs to be trusted (read thrusted) into making some important DRS calls.
Kohli gets too much into it. You almost get an impression that Saha fears making a wrong call. His judgement or error needs to be backed by the captain and the team. Plus, batsmen need to be told to be more judicious with their own reviews.
It was audacious that both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul ate up the team’s reviews inside the first 10 overs. That too for LBW decisions where the element of ‘certainty’ is an issue. Somebody needs to tell the whole team to be more judicious when it comes to DRS.
We did it in 2001 and there’s no reason we cannot do it again. A solid victory (an innings win ideally) can just be the right medicine after the Pune hangover.