India has done it again. The vulnerabilities that it manages to hide on the slow wickets of its home grounds get exposed every time it plays on quicker pitches abroad. This reality was on display yesterday as the Indian cricket team lost to Australia in a test match that it really could have won.
Set a target of 292 and with two full days to do it, India’s talented batting line-up should have had little problem. Yet the lack of experience on quicker wickets showed once again, and the team was skittled out for a disappointing 169 in less than 50 overs, with one day still remaining. Indeed, the visitors were at one stage 81 for six, but were saved from humiliation by their plucky tail enders.
The only Indian batsman to offer any kind of real resistance was Sachin Tendulkar, who scored 32 runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in what is expected to be his last test match at the venue. Still, there were hopes that the Little Master could complete his 100th international century and guide his team to victory. His failure to do so will therefore only add fuel to the argument of those who say the batsman, as talented as he is, can’t play a match winning innings.
This is far from the first time that India has failed overseas – it has been a recurring reality since the 1980s, with its much touted batting line-ups regularly crumbling on competitive pitches. Playing on conditioned wickets and in the comfort of a home ground is easy, but great teams can triumph even on the toughest, least familiar grounds.
This was India’s fifth successive overseas defeat, and it leaves a big question mark over the country’s cricketing prowess.
“Our batting flopped in both innings. We have to show more consistency,” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told reporters at the post-match media conference.
The defeat in Melbourne raises many questions about the playing conditions at home, particularly the preparation of pitches to international standards – despite having good domestic cricket clubs, it’s hard to describe any Indian wicket as up to hosting internationals. The problem is that we are so focused on winning matches at home, that most of the wickets are designed to be slow, meaning our players struggle when faced with quicker wickets overseas.
So, what needs to change? For a start, the Board of Control for Cricket in India will need to stop being so insular and develop a test squad that can play in all conditions. It’s not that the BCCI doesn’t understand this, of course. But they’re scared of upending the status quo.
Here in India it’s hard even for those that aren’t cricket enthusiasts to keep their minds completely off this national obsession. So it’s more than a little embarrassing for the nation as a whole when our players labor so badly overseas.
Sanjay Kumar blogs at Indian Decade.