Sydney Offers India A Final Chance

The SCG hosts its centenary test from tomorrow

So we come to Sydney, a venue that has provided some controversial yet entertaining Test Cricket over the last few years. India having squandered the most golden of opportunities at Melbourne find themselves with their backs to the wall yet again. The Indian media contingent however, as well as the team itself remains upbeat. According to them a fight back from the tourists and a batting display that lives up to the hype is imminent. They would be well-advised however, to count the cricket balls before showing up to net practice because despite the stellar records some of their batsmen have had at this ground, the Indians have failed to win a Test in Sydney since 1978.

Of course you can’t completely rule out the tourists for they are definitely capable of clawing their way back into this series. Here is a look at the things looking up for them going into the New Year’s Test.

The Pros:

The bowling contingent seems fit and raring to go. What looked like the biggest question mark prior to the series came out as the actual plus from the defeat in Melbourne. Both the young quicks in Ishant and Yadav bowled with fire and zeal touching the 150kph mark consistently. Ishant, the unluckiest of the lot, found the verve missing since his last tour to Australian shores and bowled with a refreshing accuracy and fullness often absent from the lanky fast bowler’s repertoire. Yadav came out all guns blazing as well and benefited extremely from the experienced Zaheer bowling at the other end. The old horse produced some magic with the wearing ball and provided Dhoni and India the comfort of knowing that a wicket was never far away with the old ball. Even Ashwin managed to bowl reasonably well given the conditions, however he would be better advised to pitch the ball a bit fuller.

The Indian Pace Attack shouldn't be Dhoni's major concern

Tendulkar averages over 200 here at Sydney and all of his three hundreds at the venue are unbeaten. Which means the little master will be relishing the challenge of taking guard on his favorite ground outside India. The hype of the ton of tons and this being the 100th Test at the SCG on aside, what the Indian team must really be comforted by is the fact that most of their batsmen have had stellar records at Sydney and once in, they usually make it count. This was the major concern at Melbourne where the batsmen (Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag the guilty parties on the occasion) after having put in the hard yards were not able to really push the advantage home. Dhoni would be hoping that is not the case second time round.

The Sydney pitch has shades of Durban is what the Indian camp will be reminding each other. The comeback win in S.A late last year was on the back of a defeat as well and remains the only notable victory of the number two ranked side in over a year now. The Australians seemed to have fallen in the same trap as the Protease and had prepared a grassier track in Sydney after the Boxing Day triumph. Zaheer who initiated absolute carnage back then must have been licking his lips this time round too but the sun beating down these last few days has meant the pitch has lost most of it’s green tinge. Still the pitch should offer a lot to the fast bowlers on the first day and if India bowls first Dhoni’s men would definitely be looking back at Boxing Day 2010 for inspiration.

Of course all is not rosy for Team India as they still find themselves 1-0 down in the series. Here is a look at where the tourists are struggling and why they might continue to do so.

The Cons:

Dhoni’s captaincy just like Yousuf’s outrageous approach from Sydney in 2010 was the deciding factor in the Melbourne Test. The captain’s field placements and lack of aggression at the fag end of the first innings, and even more importantly on the morning of the fourth day resulted in the tourists losing the plot and momentum so important in constructing Test wins. Four fielders on the boundary to the number eleven and easy rotations of the strike to the lower order in general meant that a chase that should have been around 240 was converted to the considerably more daunting 292. A lot of blame for the conservative tactics is being directed towards Fletcher in the media but no one really knows how much truth there is to that. What is apparent is that Dhoni still lacks belief in his bowlers. It might have been fine given their attacks of the recent past but the form the quicks showed in Melbourne the Indian captain must recognize that a more proactive approach is the need of the hour. If not grasped in time India can well be staring down another defeat.

Three of their batsmen look woefully out of sorts. Most of the Indian victories in the recent past have coincided with solid opening stands. Sympathizers, the Indian captain included, keep giving the benefit of the doubt to Gambhir, who hasn’t scored an international hundred in 18 Tests. It may just be bad form combined with an extreme case of rotten luck, but it can also be, as is becoming increasingly apparent with the Indian opener, a case where he has been found out. Gambhir has glaring technical deficiencies against bounce and has unfortunately failed to adapt his game accordingly. His habit of plunking down his front foot and playing the dab down to third man, a shot that exemplifies his limited over’s game, has filtered into the Test match arena as well. Not an easy flaw to rectify, it is becoming a nuisance not just for Gambhir but the entire batting line up. Kohli has similar problems and Dhoni’s vulnerability outside the sub-continent it seems has just become something the Indians have made their peace with. The one good token fifty every tour might have been sufficient when the top order was in full swing but the keeper’s failures must surely be addressed if India is to do well on this tour.

Gambhir has some tough questions to answer while Ponting looks good on the comeback trail

Things are made much worse for the Indians by the Australian pace attack. Pattinson, as he threatened to before the series started, has indeed turned out to be the real deal. Siddle, always consistent, seems to have found a higher gear as well and Hilfenhaus with Harris waiting in the wings has a point to prove himself. If Australia win the toss, the already struggling Indian batting trio may well be made to sweat it out. Clarke however, given his press conference responses, seems confident the pitch will offer assistance to spinners starting as early as day two and might then be hesitant to bat last on the pitch. Whatever the case may be, if the pitch has the bounce witnessed at Melbourne the Australian bowlers are poised to ask questions the Indian batsmen will struggle to answer.

Ponting’s return to form has also gone unnoticed. He might have just hit two fifties but the nature of those fifties is what is worth noting. He didn’t look like the shriveled up batsman on display these past twenty months, but batted with a freedom and confidence reminiscent of the legend. Don’t be surprised if the Tasmanian Tiger finally digs it’s claws deep in Sydney for just like his Indian counter parts Punter loves batting in the Sydney heat.

The SCG was suppose to serve as a booster for the touring side after a safe or even victorious first test. Things didn’t go according to plan in Melbourne however, and they need that lift now more than ever. Given the hungry nature of this Australian out-fit under Clarke it will always be an up hill task. Are Dhoni’s men hungry enough themselves? Are they willing to realize and rectify their shortcomings?  Only the next few days will tell.

Originally for Pakpassion

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