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Lessons from Mohali experience

By S. Dinakar



PLOTTING STRATEGY: Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh at the Indian team's practice session at the Eden Gardens. — Photo: S. Subramanium

KOLKATA, MARCH 14. India's scoring rate, inexplicably, dropped after the side had grabbed the lead in the first Test. And the host had eight wickets remaining at that point on the third day.

There are lessons to be learnt for India from its failure to drive home the advantage at Mohali and the pacing of the innings will be a key area of concern. Instead of going on an overdrive, the Indian innings went on the reverse gear when a tiring Pakistan attack should have been taken to the cleaners.

The figures revealing India's tardy post-lunch progress are quite startling. India went into the break at 318 for two, which meant the home team was now ahead by six runs. The rampaging Virender Sehwag — he had plundered 72 runs off 88 balls during the period — was on 166. Sachin Tendulkar, making light of tennis elbow concerns, had rushed to 47 off only 64 deliveries. And India had rattled up 134 runs in 31 overs at 4.32 in the opening session for the loss of just one wicket — Rahul Dravid.

Slump

Sehwag was dismissed soon after lunch and the Indian run-rate slumped alarmingly. Between lunch and tea, India made just 59 runs in 29 overs at 2.03. And between tea and close of play, India gathered only 70 runs in 31 overs at 2.26.

Tendulkar, approaching what would have been a record 35th Test hundred, made 28 runs off 79 balls in the post lunch session, and before he was dismissed for 94, scored another 19 off 59 balls after tea. In other words, he had slipped into a wicket-protecting mode.

The Mumbaikar, who chose not to walk when television replays showed he was caught at silly point off Danish Kaneria early on, should not be the only one to be blamed for India's laborious progress. Sourav Ganguly's 21 took him 74 balls, and V.V.S. Laxman, who remained unbeaten on 33, consumed 86 deliveries. Perhaps, the onus was more on Tendulkar since he, after getting his eye in, was a set batsman. Ganguly appeared grossly out of touch, while Laxman, his Test place under threat, was cautious in the beginning.

Theories

A lot of theories have been put forward to explain India's snail-paced advance after lunch. They are: 1. The ball had become soft and thus it became harder to strike it to the far corners of the ground. 2. The pitch had slowed down, and resultantly, the ball was travelling slower off the bat. 3. The Pakistani bowlers, leg-spinner Danish Kaneria in particular, operated much better. 4: The prospect of a 35th Test hundred was weighing down on Tendulkar. 5. Sehwag's dismissal slowed down the run-rate.

Says former Indian opener Arun Lal, "Yes, they could have got the runs faster. I don't think the condition of the ball is a viable reason. These are experienced players who have made runs quickly facing a similar ball before. But the Pakistanis bowled much better and to a different plan. Leg-spinner Kaneria was pitching the ball around the leg-stump and getting it to turn."

Stressing that it would be unfair to lay the blame on any one cricketer in particular, he said it was only natural if the record Test hundred played on Tendulkar's mind: "He is only human. Every day, his prospective 35th century is being talked about, it's there in newspapers, on television, everywhere. We must also not forget that India lost much time on the second day."

Aussie method

Drawing a parallel between the speed of the Australian run-making setting up victories and Virender Sehwag's blazing strokeplay, former Bengal captain Raju Mukherjee said, "You see the Australians, from the days of Victor Trumper to the Don Bradman era, to the present-day Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, they have always provided their bowlers with a lot of time to get wickets. Sehwag has got that special ability.

Need for speed

The Indians should have made runs faster after his dismissal, but cricket seems a simpler game from a distance. The Indian game-plan might have been to gradually consolidate the lead, which is also a part of a team's tactics."

Coach John Wright defended his batsmen: "I don't think it made a difference. We still had Pakistan at 10 for three before lunch on the fourth day. We could have scored quicker but we wanted to build a healthy lead."

Despite Wright's words, the Indian batting does lose tempo and momentum after Sehwag's departure. And surely, with Pakistan going on the defensive, the Indian batsmen could have collected their runs in singles and twos, which is a time-tested method of breaking the rhythm of an attack. The host does need to speed up its act.

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