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Smokescreen: India's Fragile Batting From Delhi, Nagpur Gapingly Exposed in Indore

By: Sahil Malhotra


Last Updated: March 03, 2023, 15:08 IST

Indore, India

Team India batters exposed in tricky Indore conditions (AP Images)

Team India batters exposed in tricky Indore conditions (AP Images)

India wanted a raging turner, got a raging turner but lacked the skill and application with the bat for the customised track.

Still in the whites, Rohit Sharma eased into the chair for the post-match presser in Indore. The cap was still on and the large-sized Oakley sat neatly on top of it. The skipper wiped some excess sweat off his neck and took a resting position before the interaction got underway. In the walk from the post-match presentation to the press conference, Rohit would have replayed the last three days in his mind over and over again. India wanted a raging turner, got a raging turner but lacked the skill and application with the bat for the customised track.

There were long pauses in the initial few answers. He was still not done with the game in his head. A win here would have assured them a World Test Championship (WTC) final spot and allowed them freedom to try few things out in Ahmedabad but it wasn’t the case to be. Instead, India were completely outplayed. Out-batted, to be more precise, in the last two and a half days and fell in the trap which was engineered to perfection. Any away side would have got sweaty palms seeing the ball do as much as it did from the first few overs. Australia were supposed to bat second and fourth on this strip and seeing India struggle on Day 1 would have trickled a few nervous bones.

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However, it seemed that a different Australian side had turned up in Indore. They were ready for the fight. They were determined to forget the first two Tests. They were convinced of possessing the skill set to succeed in these conditions. And as Steve Smith summed up during his presser, the ten-day break between the second and third Test did their mental state a world of good and allowed them to regroup and deliver in conditions which were extremely alien.

The rank-turners

For India, rank-turners continue to be a contentious at home. However, more than the conditions and the pitch, the batting surrender led to the Indore tragedy. Apart from Rohit’s hundred in Nagpur, the top-order didn’t do much in the first two Tests too but Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin covered the gaps. Asking them to do it again, on this strip, was probably being too ambitious.

In the series, Axar has faced more balls than Rohit, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. He has 185 runs from four innings and has looked stubborn in the middle. Indian batters didn’t look stubborn in the third Test. Peter Handscomb was stubborn in the pre-drinks session on Day 2, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne were stubborn on Day 1 but same can’t be said of the hosts - except Pujara in the second innings and Shreyas Iyer briefly.

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“Both the innings was not the way we would have liked to. Even in the first innings, I don’t think there was a lot happening. If you looked at all the dismissals, we played poorly. Maybe out of the 10 wickets in the first innings, maybe one or two were where the pitch did help the bowler a little bit. Other than that it was the skill of the bowler to fox the batsman out and get rid of the batsmen. We played some poor shots as well. We didn’t apply enough," said Rohit.

“And if we look at the way Australia played, they got 197. Had they not collapsed for their last six wickets, they would have got 250-275 as well. On a pitch like that 275 is a damn good score. The lack of concentration is what I will put it to. At the end, you have to apply yourself. Bat as long as possible, take your odd chances in the middle. Do not let bowlers bowl six balls on the spot. Even though if he’s wanting to bowl there, you have to try and do something different. That is something we didn’t do in this game, both the innings. We allowed them to bowl in one spot so that is where I think we made a little mistake and we’ll correct that come the Ahmedabad Test match,” he added.

The song of fire and ice

Briefly on Day 2, Pujara and Iyer got the crowd behind them when the latter exploded and went after everything. It wasn’t premeditated hitting as Iyer picked the right balls and ensured no half-measures. Had it not been for Khawaja’s brilliance or Smith’s masterstroke to change the pace of the game by getting Mitchell Starc in, it could have been a different story. 15 more minutes of Iyer show would have easily added runs at a brisk clip.

Pujara and Iyer added 35 runs off just 39 balls, with Iyer (27-ball 26) doing bulk of the scoring but that partnership did force Australia to think differently. Like getting Starc into the attack. It was less Pujara and more Iyer during that stand but it was a period which did see the momentum swing India’s way, even if briefly.

“When you’re playing on pitches like this, you need a Shreyas Iyer kind of an innings. Someone has to step up, someone has to take down the bowlers. It cannot be always that the batters will get 100 runs, 90 runs, 80 runs, you have to play cameos like that. If one of the top batters can get a big score, that’s a plus, that’s great, but when you know the pitch has some offering, there is a challenge, you need guys to go out there and play the way Iyer did, even though it was a little unlucky or unfortunate, I would say, he timed the ball really well, straight went into the hands – not straight into the hands, Khawaja took a very good catch – but you need that kind of innings,” said Rohit on Iyer’s cameo.

Short Tests a concern? “Interesting”

For the third straight time in this series, a Test hasn’t gone beyond three days. The big runs haven’t been there and an even contest between bat and ball has remained a far cry. Rohit saw the other side in this pattern and reckons it’s the inability of batters to adapt on these surfaces which results in early finishes, not just in India but around the world.

“What can I say about that. People have to play well for the game to last five days. Games are not lasting for five days even outside India. Yesterday, in South Africa the game got ever in three days. Australia as well, in the first Test match. It’s about skills. People have to adapt the skills. If the pitches are helping the bowlers, the batters need to try and test their skills. It’s not always about making sure we’re playing on flat wickets, the results don’t come. In Pakistan, there were three Test matches played, people were saying it’s become so boring. We’re making it interesting for you guys,” said Rohit.

Mission Ahmedabad

The Rohit of the pre-match presser and Rohit of the post-match presser were two different moods altogether. The former was a relaxed captain, happy with the way his team was doing and very confident to do the job in Indore and then use the Ahmedabad Test as a dress rehearsal for the WTC final. Three days later, the situation has changed, mood has changed and approach will change.

India still need to win a fixture to book that spot in the WTC final and more importantly sort their act with the bat. The likes of Kohli, Rohit, Pujara and Shubman Gill need to set the tone at top of the order. India have a lot of depth but it turns shallow the moment R Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar walk into bat with scoreboard reading a miserable 50/5 or 40/3. In all likelihood, the green top plans in Ahmedabad and a potential return for Shardul Thakur might be put on hold for now. Spin will be the way.

Or will it? An irate Rohit snapped at further pitch inquisition.

“Well it’s too early now, we just finished a Test match. We’ll go to Ahmedabad and see what we can do there. But yeah, we’ll see, we’ll have a chat about this game. What went wrong in this game, what we can do well in Ahmedabad and not worry about the pitch. Honestly, this pitch talk is just getting too much. Everytime we play in India, there’s only the focus on the pitch. Why are people not asking me about Nathan Lyon, how well he bowled. How Pujara played in the second innings? How well Usman Khawaja played. Those are the things, if you ask me, I can give you details of. Not the pitch. We focus too much on the pitch here in India. I don’t think it’s necessary,” said the 35-year-old.

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    He walked out with the typical warm smile, greeting the journalists on his way out but a sense of disappointment was visible in his tone. He knew it was a horrible show with the bat and the pitch talk will only get louder from here on. Deep down, he seemed convinced about playing on such tracks and just wants a better show from his batters.

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    first published:March 03, 2023, 15:08 IST
    last updated:March 03, 2023, 15:08 IST