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Feeble India sink to their knees


Jamie Alter,Cricketnext.com
Jan 10, 2012 at 02:22am IST

There is no sugaring the pill when a team loses by an innings and 68 runs. It was India's sixth straight overseas defeat, eighth under MS Dhoni, and their fourth worst in Australia. For Australia, it was their fifth-highest margin of victory in the last five years. Coming on the heels of a 120-run shellacking in Melbourne, and its rather evident India are headed toward disaster.

Unlike at the MCG, where the first three days finished almost on an even keel, in Sydney India were outplayed from start to finish. Like in England, a team that had been the model of consistency for 18 months – lets not forget they played 13 consecutive series without losing – is in disarray.

India never for a moment exuded the confidence of their counterparts, even as early as the first over of the match, in which Gautam Gambhir was removed edging to slip. For all intents and purposes, this match was over by tea on the first day.

Feeble India sink to their knees

The Australian team celebrate victory during day four of the second Test against India in Sydney. (Getty Images)

At no stage over the past four days have India looked remotely capable of winning. Had they miraculously held out in this Test, it would have been a result to rank alongside India's overseas successes over the years. But against the backdrop of all that has happened over the last eight days of cricket, it was almost improbable that India would rouse themselves for a task so tedious as halving the margin of defeat at the SCG.

In the field during this Test, India were a disinterested disaster – they conceded 622 runs for one wicket in almost six sessions - and during the second innings they unraveled once again after offering resistance. Their overall attitude was most noticeable in the field and India were at their lowest on day two, with MS Dhoni's defensive captaincy particularly grim. A team's mood can be measured by their collective effort and the distance between India and Australia was as harsh as the end result.

India's only realistic hope of saving this match lay in forming massive partnerships. Had Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman converted their half-centuries into centuries it would have sent a strong message through the side. Instead, Gambhir fell after adding 15 runs to his overnight score, and then four wickets went down for 15 runs. Tendulkar edged Michael Clarke to slip for 80, Laxman got a terrific delivery on 66, Dhoni tapped a return catch, and Virat Kohli got a shooter. At 286 for 7, the innings was up. As so often happens with India, an innings defeat was a mercy, although hindsight – and the merciless record books – will not be so compassionate.

The batting has been most culpable. Australia's experienced trio of Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have scored 109 more runs than India's top seven batsmen. After Tendulkar's 226 runs, R Ashwin's 143 are India’s best returns with the bat in two Tests. India's highest partnership of the series is 117, which came at Sydney. During his maiden triple-century, Clarke put on partnerships of 288 with Ponting and 334 with Hussey.

It is not a recent malaise. India's highest partnership overseas in the last year was the 176 that Gambhir and Tendulkar put on in Cape Town last January. Their best partnership outside Asia in the last three years was 172 between Tendulkar and Dhoni in Centurion in December 2010. In 2011, India crossed 300 in an overseas Test just thrice: in Cape Town (364), Roseau (347) and at The Oval (300). At home, they did it twice, both against a weak West Indies. At the MCG, they totaled 282 and 169. In the first innings at the SCG, they made 191. That is 642 runs in three innings. In one innings, Australia made 659 for 4. Clarke's unbeaten 329 was 122 runs short of what 11 Indians made in two innings in Melbourne. Harsh calls must be taken ahead of the Perth Test.

Mentally, this team is spent. In the last year they have won the World Cup – a success on which many careers have been staked – and plumbed the depths of 4-0 in England. It has been weighed down by a nation's anticipation for Tendulkar’s 100th hundred. It has had the wheels fall off its shiny bus, and lost its conductor immediately after the World Cup. The man to replace him has resembled a dinosaur pulling down that same bus. Against all this, India's players have resembled shadows of the winners of 2010.

They now have a week to locate their pride.

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