Both New Zealand and England have been thrashed in the opening Test match of their respective tours of India, and Australia made it a triumvirate after being demolished by a MS Dhoni double century (with no little help from Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Nathan Lyon along the way it must be said). India were, a few flutters aside, in such imperious form that the BCCI may reconsider their stance of barring photo journalists from the rest of the series, just to maximise on their gloating opportunities.
380 looked a decent first innings total to chase, particularly after the early departures of Murali Vijay and Virender Sehwag left India tottering at 12/2. The game was turned on its head though when Tendulkar dispatched his first two deliveries to the boundary, and after that it was one way traffic. First Tendulkar and Kohli, and then Dhoni and the tail, tore the Australian attack to shreds. Going was slow at times, but as the tourists wilted the rate increased to the point where at one stage all the Australian fielders were trying to scale the fencing in the outfield just to get away from the carnage.
Dhoni’s double ton was clearly the highlight, and the way he accelerated after passing his first century would have put Adam Gilchrist to shame. The Indian captain appeared to be in an especially phlegmatic mood after being driven to distraction by some typically inept Ishant Sharma fielding attempts earlier in the game. Which we thought was all a bit unfair: a man that good looking shouldn’t need to dirty his hands in the field. The helicopter shot was put to good use, as such niceties as working the ball into the gaps were put aside for bludgeoning the thing as far as possible. Which happens to be quite a long way when Lyon is bowling.
It was a landmark innings in more ways than one. Dhoni’s Test captaincy has come in for some criticism of late owing to his tendency to frequently let games slide, a habit that was again on full show here, particularly during Australia’s last wicket partnership on day four. Smacking the opposition bowlers all over the place is as good as way as any to deflect your critics. Although it’s not as if he’s in any real danger of being replaced as captain after all. This is the BCCI we are talking about here.
Otherwise the main talking point was the selection of Harbhajan Singh over Pragjan Ojha, an utterly bizarre decision that managed to baffle everyone (another BCCI speciality). In hindsight it proved a boon for the game as a contest, because if Ojha had played Australia probably wouldn’t have reached three figures in either innings. Maybe he was left out to ensure the BCCI could collect five days of gate takings. They do have that massive fine for uncompetitive practices to pay off, after all.
Moises Henriques is alright ain’t he? That’s about the sum of the good news for the Australians, other than James Pattinson bowling a few overs without his arse falling off. Lyon getting carted to the tune of 3/215 in the Indian first innings was clearly the stand out performance. It was, in many ways, his Tahir moment, as by the end he looked an utterly broken man. Australia have done their best to protect their number one spinner for a while now, and he was selected for this game more on reputation than form (plus they needed him to sing the team song in the unlikely event of winning), but that policy was ruthlessly exposed in Chennai by Dhoni and co.
The argument over whether Australia selecting only the one spinner was the wrong approach will rage on for a little while yet, but honestly Lyon in tandem with Xavier Doherty isn’t all that much better than one playing over the other. Calls for Peter Siddle to be dropped to make way for a second spinner are knee-jerk at best (although a tactical ‘resting’ of Siddle isn’t out of the question either). Australia didn’t pick the best players they had available (Jackson Bird and Stephen O’Keefe dodged one hell of a Dhoni shaped bullet), but those who they considered gave them the best chance of winning, although Mitchell Starc rather let them down by once again completely forgetting what he should be doing with a red ball. But despite all this it honestly came close to paying off. India were at one stage 12/2 and on the ropes again at 196/4. But then, well, Dhoni happened, and it all went to poo.
In fact arguing over the make-up of the Australian bowling line-up is to miss entirely the reason why they lost this Test: they didn’t make enough runs in their first innings. Winning the toss and having the best of the conditions was squandered when they slumped to 153/5 on the first day. In the end they were very lucky to even reach 380, largely thanks to a typically virtuoso effort from Michael Clarke. But if they want to win in India they need to do better than that. England won in India by posting totals of 400+ and Australia will need to do the same, particularly since they lack England’s spin attack. For the crime of getting a start and then throwing it away (which surprised exactly nobody), Ed Cowan in particular had a shocking Test.
He wasn’t the only one to come in for criticism however. David Warner looked rusty as hell but can be excused on the grounds that he hasn’t played any cricket for a month and is rubbish against spin anyway, but Matt Wade and Shane Watson in particular were guilty of lazy/moronic shot selection. And as a whole the team was appallingly sloppy in the field. If it wasn’t for Sehwag they would have been guilty of being out-fielded by India. Literally the second worst crime known to mankind.
Since there are vastly more important things to attend to (namely the IPL) the next Test is less than a week away, which gives little time to overhaul playing squads, or bask in an adoring country’s affection, whichever the case may be. The debate over one or two spinners will continue to stalk the tourists, and we should know pretty quickly whether they intend to stick with Lyon or not. He could well be replaced by Doherty (which needless to say wouldn’t be much of an improvement) and Glenn Maxwell may even get a chance to embarrass the Delhi Daredevil management just that little bit more. But if Australia wanted to fix all their problems they should just select Steven Peter Devereux Smith.
The hosts have no such concerns, and Harbhajan’s handful of wickets in the second innings probably means Ojha has to spend another week on the sidelines, giving neck rubs to Duncan Fletcher.