In three matches on this tour, the batsmen have set up a total that, if overcome, would be the highest run chase at the ground. Each time the target has been hunted down and only once did it require some huffing and puffing. It has been as frustrating to watch the bowling as it has been enjoyable watching runs being made. It would suggest the conditions have been stacked against the bowlers and while that might be a fair assessment, it is not the whole story.
Yes, there has been no swing at all and Australia isn’t a land to nurture seam bowling greatly anyway. And there has been very little turn except for moments in Melbourne. When the ball reaches the batsman in straight lines, it is much easier to hit through the line. But while that has been done, it hasn’t been the only way of scoring runs. That is the other area where inadequacies in the visitors have been revealed.
To understand cricket in Australia is to first understand the country itself. Large, wide-open spaces with very few people. If you want to reap from the land, you must work hard on it or it can be unforgiving. It is a land for broad shoulders and strong arms. It is a way of life that finds reflection in its pitches. They are hard, they are true and the boundaries are distant. To get anything out of them, you have to pound the turf, ball after ball, over after over. If you are a spinner you have to rip every ball and demand attention from the pitch.
As you sow, so shall you reap. It is true of life and it is true of Australian pitches!
If you merely put the ball on the spot you want it to be, it will be punished. That is why the great bowlers will tell you; it is not where the ball pitches, it is how it got there. In Australia, it must get there with intent and effort. That is what Kane Richardson and John Hastings did in the first spell at Melbourne. Ball after ball they ran in and pounded the MCG turf. Not a ball floated towards the batsman, hardly any was drivable. That is what Johnson and Harris and Starc and Pattinson and Cummins do.
India only did that in patches. When they did, even if briefly, they were a handful but the great are consistent and India’s bowlers weren’t. Balls drifted down leg side, they were short and wide, part-timers were releasing the ball not propelling it. It was like a bouquet where underneath the fresh flowers were some tired ones that had lost their fragrance.
Wide open spaces have also meant that run-making has been more strenuous. Batsmen have to constantly seek twos and threes for boundary ropes, especially square, are distant. It also means, therefore, that those manning deep positions must be fleet of foot and strong of arm. Richardson’s throw to run out Kohli in Brisbane was an illustration as were many from Glenn Maxwell in the deep. To be fair, India have some brilliant fielders in this team. Jadeja, Pandey, Rahane, Rohit and Kohli have been magnificent but they can’t field everywhere. And so, throwing arms have been exposed and the slightest lethargy in reaching the ball, strangely from the fast bowlers, has been punished.
That is why I believe, India haven’t as much been out-skilled here as they have been outmuscled. The physicality of the cricket here has been overwhelming and the fast bowlers in particular have been found wanting for they are the leaders here and the spinners the support cast. Some are inexperienced but not everyone is and bowlers returning here have no excuse for being patchy in intensity. That is why you feel for Dhoni. You could be bewildered occasionally by his tactics but his bowlers, the quick men especially, haven’t filled anyone with confidence.
Part of the reason is that in India the pitch can often be an ally. The bowler and the pitch sometimes hunt the victim together. In Australia, you occasionally have to overcome the pitch to reach the batsman. It has implications for the way Indian bowlers are prepared. If you prepare dust heaps, like some state associations have in the Ranji Trophy, you render the bowlers incapable of bowling anywhere else. You end up playing for small successes.
True, it is a similar story when visiting teams come to India and even the mighty Australians were vanquished 4-0 in the test series played at home. As India have been asked questions here, they were quizzed in India too and they had just as few answers as have been offered here. When Ashwin tosses the ball up in Chennai or in Delhi, it lands and grips the batsman. When a visiting bowlers pounds the turf back of a length, it sits up asking to be deposited into the stands.
That is why countering cultures and conditions is as much as a part of cricket as bowling a ball or hitting it. The very best can and that is why you tend to judge players by how they do away from home. It has been tough (Australia’s bowlers have conceded three hundred too) but often you search for intensity as much as you do results and on both counts India have fallen short.