On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Australian Cricket And The Art Of Losing

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It was a wonderful performance by Australia at Mohali and Indian captain Dhoni would be fuming with the way his top order is functioning in this series. And he has all the right to be incensed with the consistency shown by his batsmen.

This is a depleted Australian side and without quite a few big performers that were there in the team that India defeated in the two finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Sydney and Brisbane last year.

Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Andrew Symonds, Nathan Bracken and Brad Hogg are out of the line-up. Three of them have retired and four have fitness issues. On top of that Brett Lee and James Hopes have also joined the injury list but the series is hanging in balance at 2-2.

There is no problem with Brett Lee talking about a 7-0 result in Australia’s favour before the series; he was basically reinforcing the Aussie mindset in the absence of McGrath and Warne; who used to say it before every series. On the contrary, a 6-1 result in India’s favour should have been a realistic goal considering that the Indian captain had most of the first choice players available at home.

Dhoni has defended his young players and also the senior ones in public but in private he must be seething that the 2-2 could easily have been 4-0 in India’s favour. Mind you, I am not taking the credit away from Australia. The score-line is equal only because it has been an Australian side; no matter who has played or missed or even made his debut in this tour. The reason for the Australian performance has been articulated nicely by Ian Chappell on many occasions: Australia never beats itself and firmly believes that it is the job of the opposition to beat them.

In the ODI played at Mohali, the top 5 Aussie batsmen scored 208 runs out of the 250 that their team scored. It was a below par score courtesy disciplined bowling and superb fielding by India on a good batting strip. The top 5 Indian batsmen scored 118 runs between themselves and if you add number six and seven as well the Indian score goes up to 142 runs. The reason of defeat is pretty obvious.

In Vadodara, the top 5 Australian batsmen scored 253 out of the 292 runs that the team scored. The top order of India in that match scored 159 runs out of the 293 required and if I add the number six and seven as well the total goes up to 173. This is poor performance as a batting unit like captain Dhoni said. The two experienced Australian batsmen Hussey and Ponting have scored six fifties between them; one low score and a forty. No two players in the Indian dressing room have been so consistent.

Virat Kohli and Ravinder Jadeja and to some degree Suresh Raina must understand that golden opportunities would not come forever and they must look at Gambhir, who has cemented his position by using his chances so well. Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Yuvraj have won matches single-handedly on many occasions and they would be handled with kid gloves because of that; but there is a long list waiting if these three are found wanting.

Australia was winning almost everything in limited overs and Test matches with a great team till a few years ago. Ironically, though, the most important lesson that can be learned from Australia is on how to lose. Some of the best Test matches from the mid-1990s to 2006 have been the ones that Australia has lost; as a friend of mine once pointed out. They have been great because Australia has demonstrated how much you need to do to take a match away from them. Remember Edgbaston 2005; and the match Australia saved after that and then Trent Bridge; where Ponting was fuming after substitute fielder Gary Pratt’s throw ran him out. How difficult was it to chase 129 runs against Australia in Trent Bridge and the 155 odd that India had to make in Chennai in 2001?

It is not the same unit and the best that India can now do is to get a 5-2 result; which is quite possible given their strength on paper. Sadly for India, strength on paper means nothing. What counts is that Dhoni has got the best out of the team in such situations before and there is no reason why he can’t do it now. He is a sharp captain who realises that any slackness now could easily be the same score-line in Australia’s favour.

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