India face uphill battle against relentless Australian attack | Australia cricket team

B efore the first Test Ajinkya Rahane told reporters “communication will be the key” for India to combat Australia under lights at Adelai...


Before the first Test Ajinkya Rahane told reporters “communication will be the key” for India to combat Australia under lights at Adelaide Oval. He could never have imagined how loaded such innocuous words would become.

76 overs into a high-quality but slow moving opening day India were on top. Virat Kohli was easing through the gears of an innings of great maturity, his typical bombast subsumed by a steely determination. Rahane himself was proving a capable foil and together the pair had guided the tourists out of trouble and in sight of a decisive total. Then came the communication breakdown, and boy was it key.

Kohli’s run out dismissal was the first of 17 Indian wickets to fall in 232 balls for the accumulation of just 92 runs.

India conspired to collapse three times in consecutive days, the last of which reached historically comprehensive proportions for being just the second occasion in history when all 11 batsmen have taken guard without any reaching double figures. It was also the joint lowest total in Tests in Australia.

Compounding India’s misery, there is no adventitious explanation to brush off such a calamity: the pitch was not spiteful, the ball did not hoop around corners, there was no lopsided toss to blame. The same factors are likely to be at play for their remaining six innings of the series.

The most considerable of those factors is Australia’s five-man attack. It could hardly be better balanced or in purer form.

India’s capitulation will be remembered not for any great demolition, but the relentlessness of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood landing the pink ball on an ideal line and length time and time again. It’s tempting to reach for an analogy suggesting India suffered death by a thousand cuts, but with both bowlers topping 140kph it was more like annihilation by a few dozen bullets.

Mitchell Starc, now among his country’s top-ten all-time wicket-takers (ascending alongside Shane Warne et al with easily the best strike-rate) and Nathan Lyon, also deserve praise for playing their roles, especially in the first innings. Cameron Green warrants commendation too for his performance on debut. His strong action makes him an ideal fifth bowler to operate sparingly as the designated enforcer, or to bowl dry in advance of the second new ball.

Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc bowled Prithvi Shaw with the second delivery of the series. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Figuring out a plan to combat such potency is one of many questions India must answer before entering Melbourne’s Boxing Day bear pit on Saturday.

For starters they need to make at least two changes to their XI. Virat Kohli will be sorely missed as he returns home for the birth of his first child, while Mohammed Shami will be missing sorely after suffering a nasty blow to his right forearm – his bowling arm – during his second stint at the crease. Beyond that, Wriddhiman Saha will be fortunate to retain his place ahead of Rishabh Pant following an unconvincing display behind the stumps and in the middle order. Further up, Prithvi Shaw’s technique in Australian conditions appeared to have been cruelly exposed in quicktime by the home pacemen. Dare India make so many alterations? Can they afford not to?

Regardless of which members of the touring party are called upon at the MCG, the unit as a whole has to improve its performance in the field. Catching at Adelaide Oval was embarrassing with misses costly, frequent, and, for the standard, straightforward. The bowling, while broadly of a high standard, needs to be fuller and tighter to more consistently threaten Australia’s stumps. Too often deliveries gave the appearance of menace only to sail into Saha’s gloves without drawing a batsman forward or bringing LBW or bowled dismissals into the equation. India’s pacemen shouldn’t require much reeducation, especially considering Cummins and co. have provided a handy crib sheet.

If Indian supporters are looking for straws to grasp they could point to the evidence that it was only one horrendous session that ultimately cost them the Test, a possibly aberrant 21.2 overs that may eventually be chalked off to early-series acclimatisation. Remember, when India began day three they were ahead in the game with a lead of 62 and nine wickets in hand.

Recent history also suggests teams that have suffered crushing humiliations rebound positively. After Australia were skittled for 60 at Headingley in 2015 they regrouped to win the following Test at the Oval by an innings and more. Similarly, in 2011, after being blown away for 47 in Cape Town, Australia bounced back to prevail in Johannesburg. The last time India failed to reach triple figures was 2008 in Ahmedabad when Dale Steyn was at his tearaway best. Just eight days later they were victorious by eight wickets in Kanpur.

Convinced? No, me neither. Against such a magnificent Australian bowling attack India are going to need more than just good communication to get anything out of this contest.



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Newsrust: India face uphill battle against relentless Australian attack | Australia cricket team
India face uphill battle against relentless Australian attack | Australia cricket team
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