It is the lunch break of the third day of the Pune Test between India and Australia. Australia have set a target of 441 for India to win.
For anyone following this match, the 1st innings collapse by the Indian team, losing 7 wickets for 11 runs after lunch on Day 2 – six of them to Steve O’Keefe (SOK) – was inexcusable. And now we have knives and swords drawn out to slash these stars down to the ground.
Let’s have the facts first.
1. India allowed Australia to get to 260 after having them 205/9. They took the new ball on the first evening when the old one was providing all the magic that they needed.
2. Quite a few dismissals in the Indian innings were pathetic – not least Vijay, Kohli and Rahul. Kohli’s was the one that hurt the most because of the form he’s in, and because he is such an impact player.
3. SOK has better returns in this match than either Ashwin or Jadeja.
Now, I’m not discounting the aforementioned statements. But I also find it wrong when fans, Indian and foreign alike, turn on this team. One bad hour of cricket and we have statements like “Indian spinners are poor,” “Indian batsmen are flat track bullies,” “Rahane needs to be replaced with Karun Nair,” “the Indian team is getting a taste of its own medicine,” etc etc.
I don’t agree!
Rankings are a sum total of a player’s or a team’s performance till that particular time. Rankings aren’t achieved or lost in a day. India showed against England that they can beat teams even on fair batting pitches, even after losing the toss. So questioning the team’s(and the players’) ranking based on what happened on Day 2 here is jumping the gun, to be honest.
Ashwin and Jadeja ought to have had better returns than what they achieved. One can say they were unlucky or one can compare the difference in the way they bowled to the way SOK bowled. On EspnCricinfo, Sid Monga has this excellent piece arguing where India possibly made a mistake. Worth a read.
And before we say Indian spinners are crap and need helpful pitches, kindly note that the pitch for this match is the most spin-friendly among all the pitches this home season. Indian spinners actually fared better on the flatter pitches in the England series. Indian Test history is littered with instances where lesser-known visiting spinners have excelled in a match or two – John Bracewell, Arshad Khan, Shaun Udal, Dean Elgar, to name a few. I don’t grudge SOK the rich haul he notched up. If anything, he deserves it for the hard wok and sacrifice he did (opted out of the Big Bash, for instance). But let’s hold our horses in judging these spinners till the series is over.
India played poorly. There is no way around it. The earlier the team understands this point, the better it will be going forward in this series. And it does seem that it does, if Anil Kumble’s press conference yesterday is anything to go by. But as fans, cricket fans, let’s not dump the players based on one poor performance. They have been playing consistently well for the past two years and one bad hour of play doesn’t mean the players have suddenly lost form or become bad. The fielding in the Australian second innings was pathetic. For all of Steven Smith’s excellence with the bat, wasting two reviews inside 40 overs and dropping 2-3 catches from the World’s No.1 batsmen is unforgivable. Based on how they have performed till now, India do not deserve to win this match and will, in all probabilities, lose it. Australia have their foot on India’s throat and it will take more than just a miracle to either win or draw this match, the latter looking impossible without a rain intervention. But it’s often said that Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. Don’t pass judgement before the match is actually over.
And to the foreign fans, this is what I would say. The Indian team wouldn’t have expressly asked for a pitch like this. They have played on fair pitches throughout the season and won. If anything, pitches like these even up the chances of visiting spinners thriving. It’s the traditional Indian pitches that are tougher for them to negotiate. Pitch-making in this heat isn’t easy. Besides, as Steven Smith showed, you can score enough runs on this pitch.
I just skipped over to see that India are 20/2 after 8 overs. Phew! Some 225 overs remaining in the match. Let’s hope for a miracle!
I’d love to hear your views in the comments. Thanks for reading.