Sat, Dec 31, 2011 - Page 18 News List

ANALYSIS: Slow-starters India once again playing catch-up

Reuters, NEW DELHI

Just one Test into the four-match series against Australia and India are confronting the grim reality that they remain international cricket’s slowest starters, especially on tour.

Before leaving the shores of India, V.V.S. Laxman was contemplating what he thought was India’s best chance of securing their first Test series triumph in Australia, but the 122-run thumping in Melbourne means it is the same old story, with the India team embarking on yet another catch-up job when the series resumes in Sydney on Tuesday.

“We are known to be tentative starters. More often than not, we don’t start well. Hope the next match is going to be slightly better,” India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said in the aftermath of the defeat.

This time, though, Dhoni cannot even complain about poor preparation.

Unlike in England earlier this year, where the under-cooked, injury-ravaged team surrendered their world No. 1 Test status following a 4-0 whitewash, Dhoni and his teammates had two weeks and a couple of warm-up games to get ready.

“We had enough practice, we just need to apply ourselves a bit more in the game,” Dhoni told the STAR Cricket channel.

The Indian skipper can probably start with himself.

A former No. 1 batsman in one-day internationals, Dhoni has a rather unflattering Test record abroad and his scores of 6 and 23 in Melbourne hardly enhanced his reputation.

Yes, batting at No. 7 means he often has tailenders for company, but the hard truth is Dhoni averages a poor 17 in Australia, a gulf from his near 38 overall. This from a captain, who in cricket’s shorter formats, leads by example.

Opener Gautam Gambhir’s poor form has not helped India’s cause either, denying them the kind of solid start to an innings they would have been hoping for.

The pugnacious southpaw embarked on a sensational purple patch in March 2009 when he hit the first of five centuries in as many Tests, but he has not managed another since and now has just two half-centuries in his last 13 innings, both coming against a weak West Indies attack on home soil.

Gambhir could not negotiate swing in England, where a concussion while fielding compounded his misery, and he was done by the bounce in both innings of the Melbourne Test.

So far, the perfect foil for his explosive partner, Virender Sehwag, has managed 3 and 13 in Melbourne and he now looks the most vulnerable of India’s top-five batsmen.

His fellow Delhi batsman, Virat Kohli, has also put his No. 6 position in India’s lineup at risk.

Kohli has cemented his place in India’s 50-over squad, but after managing 11 and a golden duck in Melbourne, the 23-year-old right-hander has given Rohit Sharma, another limited-overs specialist, enough reason to be optimistic of his Test debut.

In the bowling department, Dhoni’s sole concern is a seemingly inexplicable inability to clean up Australia’s tail, despite tearing through the top and middle order.

Dhoni reckoned it was Australia’s tailenders who tilted the scales in Melbourne, but he did not blame his bowlers, who did, after all, take 20 wickets in the match.

The tourists will hope that is not the case in the second Test, where a traditional Sydney Cricket Ground track is likely to suit India’s stroke-makers and spinners alike.

“It’s a long series and four Tests give you a lot of room to make a comeback in the series. We will take positives from this match and come back strongly in the next Test,” Dhoni said.

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