India’s much vaunted batting lineup crumbled in the face of Australia’s young, enthusiastic seam attack to hand the home side a comfortable win in the end. Despite the size of the victory, the ascendancy changed hands several times, as Australia scrapped their way to a reasonable first innings score before India collapsed their way to a poor one. Australia then collapsed again before fighting back and setting a challenging score which India utterly failed to approach sensibly.
These days Australia seem to lurch between two extremes on a game-by-game basis: one week it’s all a disaster (47 all out, losing to New Zealand, picking Steve Smith with no apparent idea of why) and then the next they’re beginning the climb back to the top (winning in Cape Town, thrashing New Zealand, dropping Steve Smith). This match had hints of the former but eventually turned into the latter.
Again the batting looked as fragile as some of us felt on Boxing Day morning. First time round it was only Peter Siddle’s tail-end biffery that saw them to a reasonable score. Second time round it was Mike Hussey, assisted by Ricky Ponting and an apparent misunderstanding on India’s part around how the LBW rule actually works. Apart from those highlights it was business as usual – a succession of ridiculous shots (or non-shots in the case of Ed Cowan) resulting in two top-order collapses.
It was with the ball that Australia made a real impression. Using only a three-man seam attack, plus groundsman Nathan Lyon (who was presumably there to help repair Segway-related damage to the playing surface), Australia managed to skittle India twice. Ben Hilfenhaus looked like a completely different bowler from the one so comfortably milked during the Ashes, while Peter Siddle bowled with pace, aggression and a very punchable face. But the real star was James Pattinson, already looking a safe bet for the best Test career in his family, picking up another six wickets and working over Sachin Tendulkar. With the likes of Pat Cummins in the wings, we’re holding out some real hope that Mitchell Johnson will never again stink out the baggy green. Yes, we had some fun moments (those five wides at Brisbane being an obvious one) but there comes a point when a joke stops being funny and starts to become incredibly annoying. Watch Soccer AM if you don’t know what we mean.
Despite all the positives, questions still remain, particularly around the batting. How long can Ricky Ponting’s stay of execution continue? Will Shane Watson come back in to open or will he go into the middle order? At whose expense? How long will Brad Haddin be allowed to turn in dismal performances before anyone notices?
It’s not that long ago that India went into a series with England as the number one ranked Test side. Five consecutive away defeats later, that position looks a million miles away. Their bowling performances here were actually much better than they were back in that series but the batting let them down massively. We’re sick of hearing about how great their batting lineup is, as they yet again failed to reach 300 in conditions that required a little bit of application. Sehwag batted as if his feet were glued to the crease while Gautam Gambhir simply doled out slip-catching practice. Laxman, Kohli and Dhoni all had matches to forget, leaving the burden (yet again) on Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. The latter looked in excellent nick but failed to make the most of two good starts. He’s probably as sick of hearing about the hundred hundreds as we are.
Still, there was some nice tail ending (oo-er!) from the likes of R Ashwin. Indeed, India’s bowlers generally did a pretty decent job, in particular Zaheer Khan, who actually looked reasonably fit for once. They were let down by the batting and some shoddy moments of captaincy from MS Dhoni, particularly in allowing the Australian tail to wag in the second innings, setting very defensive fields for James Pattinson (first class average somewhere around ten) and Ben Hilfenhaus (dunno, but probably somewhere around zero).
India have made a habit of making poor starts to away trips, as if that somehow makes this result acceptable. Sweeping changes aren’t going to happen – half the team literally pick themselves – but there may need to be a change in attitude (i.e. play some relevant warm up games) if this is ever going to change. In the short term, the SCG might offer enough turn to warrant a second spinner but a three-man pace attack is probably more likely, in which case they may well be unchanged.
The weather in Sydney has been unseasonably crap this year, with a fair few overcast days and even some of that rain nonsense. As a result the pitch at the SCG may well turn out to be more favourable to the quicks. In which case expect both teams to be unchanged and the match to be another fascinating affair. Plus a cameraman will probably fall off a segway at some point, causing an entire nation to grind to a halt with laughter. In recreating this epoch-defining event, Ian Healy to be crushed beneath the wheels.