Can India Triumph Down Under?

by Monish Kulkarni

India have been left reeling. The WACA Stadium at Perth was the setting for Australia’s demolition of India and indeed if fans had the misfortune of tuning in to that 3rd Test in the ongoing series, they would have seen Australia win by an innings and 37 runs. An innings which incidentally saw T20 maverick, David Warner, feast on a bemusing (as far as the composed ambit of Test cricket is usually concerned), 180 runs of just 159 deliveries.

Indian skipper MS Dhoni certainly does not need reminding that this is his seventh consecutive loss abroad (after a similar horror tour of England), and a series where not one Indian batsmen has scored a century. The bowlers too, have showed only glimpses of aggression, limited pace and not much else.

But critically, Perth was not an anomaly. In Sydney, the Australian quicks, Siddle and Hilfenhaus wrought havoc upon the apparently first-rate Indian line-up, bowling them out relentlessly for just 191. In a more sedate affair, Australian skipper Michael Clarke found himself cruising along to a colossal 329* on the same pitch.

So the question is this: amid these total defeats, does India stand any chance at all in the fourth and final Test in Adelaide?

Against all evidence to the contrary, I believe they do. This is not just mindless optimism on my part either. The Adelaide Oval curator, Mr Damien Hough, has suggested that the ground will retain its traditional dryness, making for a better batting pitch than the previous three encounters. In short, Adelaide comes closest to recreating the dryness of the subcontinent pitches that India ensconce in so naturally.

In a bizarre twist, MS Dhoni has been banned from Adealaide after a slow-over rate at Perth: surprising but not entirely devastating. In fact, change could be exactly what India need, especially when considering the mediocrity of Dhoni’s field settings and his seeming lack of decisiveness in striking hard at the opposition when inroads have been made. Perhaps in the hands of vice-captain Sehwag, India can find some welcome spark on the field after a very ordinary composition of fielding performances in recent times.

And don’t forget that man either. Virender Sehwag, like most of the Indian batsmen, has had a torrid time with the bat recently. But it won’t be lost on any of the aging stalwarts that this is very much their last chance in Australia. Whether it is Tendulkar, fighting for a possible hundredth international century, Dravid, confronting his new record as the most bowled Test player in history, or VVS Laxman, desperately clinging on to his place in the team, they all know they have never won a series in Australia. They have lost this one, but surely the prospect of a final victory in the country where they have produced dazzling performances over the years, must be enticing.

So does the 4-0 scorecard, mediocre Indian batting and yet another indifferent bowling display await fans on Monday? The optimist in me would hope not; India have one last chance to prove their worth and certainly their best chance to seize a win on this series. Victory will not solve the serious problems the Indian bowlers and batsmen face in adapting to pitches abroad. But it will go a long way towards appeasing fans on both sides, who want to see the genuine contest Test cricket was designed for…