India in Australia 2014: Who will deliver the knock-out punch?

As we await the traditional Boxing Day Test match at MCG, it would be interesting to see who can deliver the “knockout punch” this time around. India were never so close to winning Test Matches in Australia in the past few years. What is probably lacking is the instinct to finish the task, when they are almost there. The biggest positive seen with this young team is, the fighting spirit, although there is scope for improvement for few individuals there.

India had two chances in the two tests so far to deliver the knockout punch, but faltered at important junctures in the game. At Adelaide, when 80+ runs were required in 20+ overs, with handful of wickets in hand, India blew away the chance. In Brisbane, with a lead of 200+ runs, India could not get the last 5 wickets and lost momentum from there on.

Looking back at the Brisbane test, India lost the plot twice. The first one while bowling and the second while batting in the 3rd innings. Giving away almost 150 runs even after Smith got out sounds outrageous. Several statistics already are pointing to the fact that, India is finding it difficult to get rid of the opposition tail in recent years. However nothing seems to have changed in the approach and to put it bluntly there is hardly any improvement over the years. There was little effort put in to contain the tail, instead they were hoping to get wickets in mishits. In the 3rd innings, when Johnson was on fire, for the first time in the series, the least Dhoni could have done is to protect his wicket. While Dhawan has to be appreciated for the effort, it was evident from his body language and approach that he was desperate to throw away his wicket at one point. While there were “hit-me” balls being delivered, he was trying to manufacture shots on decent balls. If Umesh hung on for that long, he could have hung on for few more overs too.

Moving to Melbourne, Dhawan should continue his aggressive approach as long as he is not improvising on the balls that land in line with the wickets. Pujara has to overcome the tentativeness against Lyon, if he wants to make this series count. Rahane would probably prosper the day India decides to adopt DRS. It would be nice to see our “talented” batsman drive with the bat than the mouth in Melbourne, if he is lucky enough to retain his position in the playing eleven. Dhoni’s approach of walking into the ball might cover for outswinging deliveries, which are few anyways. He needs to trust his abilities to play all other deliveries on merit and play like he does in an ODI.  One other batsman who looked very assured while he was batting is Ashwin although, that is not his primary role. If India can drop Rohit Sharma and play Ashwin as an allrounder, it creates space for another bowler, which they desperately need as after all only a bowler can help take the required 20 wickets to win a game.

On the bowling front, lot of hopes will be pinned on Bhuvi, who was the most successful bowler in the England tour. Coming back from injury and bowling on not so swing friendly conditions, even he might find it tough. It is worrying to see that the bowlers need constant input from the captain as to where to bowl. No one is expecting Dhoni to last another 5 years in tests, but these bowlers have a longer career. Captain can have a game plan and bowlers should be able to execute it. If they find it difficult to deliver consistently according to the field that is set up then they stand no threat to the batsmen, even at speeds of 140+ kmph. India’s quest for a spinner who is half good as Lyon in this series still continues. While Lyon is able to contain India’s top order batsmen and get their wickets, Indian spinners are not able to even trouble the lower order batsmen of the Aussies.

All in all, the next round of the bout would be interesting to watch and the setting cannot be more spectacular than the historical MCG.

– Saikumar Singaraju [Sai leads the efforts of our expedition team in the Cricket Galaxy . Join him on twitter here.]

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