In cold numbers,anatomy of overseas melancholy

When Gautam Gambhir fended a Mitchell Starc bouncer into Mike Hussey’s hands at gully on Day Two at the WACA,a familiar sinking feeling might have overtaken Indian fans

Written by Karthikkrishnaswamy | Perth | Published:January 16, 2012 1:16 am

When Gautam Gambhir fended a Mitchell Starc bouncer into Mike Hussey’s hands at gully on Day Two at the WACA,a familiar sinking feeling might have overtaken Indian fans.

Brief it might have been,but the 24 that Gambhir put on with Virender Sehwag was the pair’s biggest stand in eight innings over the course of India’s tours to England and Australia. Cumulatively,across those eight innings,they have remained together at the crease for a grand total of 33 overs. In 12 innings on the two tours,Gambhir has averaged 20.50,and Sehwag,in 10 innings,a shocking 15.90.

Sehwag and Gambhir are among Test cricket’s greatest ever opening pairs,with nearly 4000 partnership runs at 53.95. Their failure to even halfway match that career record during these two arduous tours has had knock-on effects on India’s middle and lower order.

Exposed to the new ball early,India’s fabled middle order have been inconsistent. Between them,Rahul Dravid,Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman have scored only 11 50-plus scores in seven Tests. Out of those 11 knocks,only three — all by Dravid — have crossed three figures.

The sustained elusiveness of that 100th international hundred has meant that Tendulkar has averaged a mediocre 37.28 across the two tours. Laxman,meanwhile,has averaged 20.28.

Their lack of big scores has,in turn,meant that numbers three,four and five have seldom been at the crease when the opposition has taken the second new ball. India have struggled to even get to that 80-over mark,missing out in seven of their 14 innings. In the seven innings where they’ve lasted beyond that point,they’ve usually collapsed to the shiny new Duke or Kookaburra,scoring a total of 356 runs for the loss of 33 wickets,or 10.79 runs every wicket.

This has led to the rapid loss of positions of strength. In the first innings at Trent Bridge,India were 258 for four in reply to England’s 221 when the second new ball was taken. The innings lasted only 11.1 overs more,yielding 30 runs for six wickets. The same happened in the first Test here at the MCG,where India went from 243 for six (214 for two at one stage) to 282 all out .

Allergic to grass

All of this,of course,has come about because the batsmen have failed to come to terms with sideways movement. With this in mind,curators in both England and Australia have left grass on their wickets. And their bowlers have bowled a full,searching length and giving the batsmen barely any loose balls.

On the same wickets,the Indian bowlers,except for Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar,have sprayed it all over. Zaheer,in his brief spell at Lord’s and in the three Tests here,has taken 14 wickets in five innings at 25.78. After his five-for on Day Two,Umesh Yadav’s figures for the tour have taken on some sort of respectability — 12 wickets in four innings at 32.66.

The rest of the pace bowlers have returned shocking figures. In 10 innings,Ishant Sharma has taken 15 wickets at 64.26,striking once every 104.4 balls. Collectively,Sreesanth,RP Singh and Vinay Kumar have taken nine wickets at 76.00,while bleeding 4.33 runs per over.

The spinners,in conditions with little help for them,have been used in a primarily defensive role. But they may have taken this a little too literally. Together,Harbhajan Singh,Amit Mishra and R Ashwin have bowled 245.4 overs,conceded 905 runs and taken nine wickets — a wicket,that is,every 100.56 runs.

And therefore,even as India struggled to make 300,doing so only twice across the two tours,their opponents crossed 500 four times. Between Ed Cowan’s dismissals in Sydney and Perth,India took just one Australian wicket for 836 runs.

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