The ugly Aussie would have been most welcome. At least he’d have put up a fight. Australia’s dispiriting collapse to go two-nil down against India has now solidified the suspicions that hung over a team of limited experience on a tough sub-continental tour.
The visiting batsmen have failed to save their team. The manner in which they have trooped out however can scarcely be put down to inexperience alone. In just thirty-something overs on the last morning eight Australian wickets fell; a majority to recklessness than to anything devious in the bowler or the pitch. A counterattack isn’t always recommended and the need of the hour then was to burrow deep for, say, ninety-odd minutes, and carry on to make best use of set eyes and assured feet.
This was precisely what Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay did for India when they ground out a whole session to begin the second day. Vijay, especially, sensing a chance to cement himself into India’s opening scheme, curbed his instincts to attack and played a gem; a knock far worthy of his talent than the chancy Irani Cup hundred responsible for returning him to the Test eleven.
Australia’s equivalents at the top of the order have been lacking in such application. David Warner hit out against R. Ashwin and was out trying to sweep a delivery too full, before close on the third day. Cowan was dropped twice at short-leg and perished to the cut, a shot whose time – in the conventional wisdom of such things – hadn’t yet come.
Phil Hughes’ technique may not garner high praise at an MCC dinner, but has fetched over twenty Tests (not a number to be scoffed at for a 24-year-old) and hundreds at Colombo and Durban. The only role Hughes has yet performed in India has been of Ashwin’s bunny.
India’s star spinner has hurled 44 deliveries at the Australian No.3, given away a solitary run and dismissed him three times. On the sole occasion that Ashwin missed out, Ravindra Jadeja bowled Hughes for a three-ball duck.
Now that he’s temporarily sacrificed bowling duties at the altar of fitness, the onus of putting up a big score is greater on Shane Watson. Twenty-eight, 17, 23 and 9 indicate that Watson has been getting starts, and throwing them away.
Low bounce claimed him on the pull in the first innings at Hyderabad. In the second, Watson was caught behind trying to dab Ishant Sharma down the leg-side: a wicket-taking ball it was most certainly not. The all-rounder expressed his frustration at having had to forsake one-half of his skill-set (most understandable when his team is spending entire sessions chasing leather) but nothing that Watson did with the bat betrayed an assuredness in the middle, a quality so central to a successful Test batsman and one possessed in heaps by the visiting captain.
As has often been said, it has appeared to be a totally different game when Michael Clarke has batted. The 31-year-old seems to have continued in his record-breaking vein of last year. He has looked comfortable against all kinds of bowling - as he should look going by the runs he amassed against quality attacks in the previous calendar - but Clarke’s success was expected.
How Australia fared on this difficult tour was always going to depend on the support cast, which has failed miserably. Wicketkeeper-batsman Mathew Wade showed great courage in battling a fractured cheekbone to score a half-century in Hyderabad, but was guilty of throwing away his wicket after putting in the hard yards, just about the time Australia had an outside chance of nosing ahead of India.
Mostly, Wade, as is the case with most other batsmen, has failed to read the spinners, gotten increasingly frustrated, and played a loose shot to get out.
Not like Australia’s bowling has looked in any condition to win them a match. The pace-heavy attack has struggled in India; the spinners, following the precedent of Nathan Lyon, have been utterly ineffective, and Clarke has had nobody to turn to in times of need: No Glenn McGrath, no Jason Gillespie; not even Michael Kasprowicz – the three speedsters that engineered Australia's last series triumph on Indian soil, in 2004.
Not since the stop-gap days of Kim Hughes in the early 1980s has an Australian team been so thoroughly humiliated. Clarke sounded rightly displeased and hurt after the resounding loss at Hyderabad and promised – or at least implied – that his boys wouldn’t sit around on their behinds doing nothing. With two more matches to go, and India sensing a revenge of the 4-0 rout Down Under last year, Clarke’s job may not get any easier from here.