Pune loss exposes India's inability to cope with ‘akharas’

Captain Virat Kohli admitted it was a “reality check” after India was mauled by 333 runs with almost eight sessions still remaining in the game at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium at Gahunje.

Left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe grabbed a sensational match-haul of 12 wickets against India in the first Test match in Pune.   -  AP

Winning streaks are bound to be broken. So it wasn’t a surprise that India’s incredible run — 19 Tests in a row and 20 consecutive Tests at home — in white flannels came to an end during the series-opening Test against Australia. What was astonishing about the defeat, though, was the manner in which India was given a taste of its own medicine.

Captain Virat Kohli did admit it was a “reality check” after India was mauled by 333 runs with almost eight sessions still remaining in the game at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium at Gahunje.

Despite asking for a doctored pitch, Indian batsmen failed to show signs of steel as they crumbled against Australian spinners during the first Test in Pune.   -  Photo: AFP

The fact that India opted for an akhara (rank turner) over the typical Indian surfaces witnessed throughout the long season of Test cricket this season — flat beds with spinners coming into play as the game progresses — in itself indicated that India was on the defensive. And the approach adopted by India on various counts — team combination, batting and bowling — certainly raised doubts over India’s ability to deal with tricky conditions at home.

Kohli passed the buck of the huge loss to the batting unit, who faltered in both the essays. Such lacklustre was India’s batting that it created multiple nadirs: lowest tally over two innings in India, least balls faced by India over two innings at home, among others. More than the forgettable statistics, though, the Indian batsmen’s inability to cope with tuners in itself was on display in Pune.

Ineffective batting

While Australia’s batsmen displayed exemplary patience in playing inside the line of the ball, their Indian counterparts appeared to be clueless when it came to making minor adjustments required on turning tracks. This wasn’t the first time that these batsmen were exposed in such conditions. Mohali and Nagpur Tests against South Africa in 2015 had also exposed India’s batsmen’s failure to adapt to akharas.

It was startling to see all of India’s batsmen neither making an effort to grind it out by either getting to the pitch of the ball or playing inside the line or making an effort to counter-attack. Barring K.L. Rahul’s cameo in the first innings, at no point did any of India’s batsman appear to pose any challenge to a disciplined Australian spin attack.

Barring K.L. Rahul’s cameo in the first innings, at no point did any of India’s batsman appear to pose any challenge to a disciplined Australian spin attack.

So spineless was the batting unit that it kind of overshadowed the lacunae in India’s spin armoury. R. Ashwin appeared to be a tiring tiger, Ravindra Jadeja seemed to have stuck to his style without taking the nature of the pitch into consideration and Jayant Yadav – along with pacer Ishant Sharma – hardly had any role to play in the game.

Perhaps India should have played a specialist batsman in place of Jayant or Ishant.

All through the game we did see Ashwin and Jadeja beating the bat with balls that turned a lot. Whereas, their Aussie counterparts, Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe, bowled a probing length that resulted in dismissing batsmen more often than beating them.

But neither did the India spinners rectify their shorter length, which game batsmen ample time to play inside, after the first innings or after watching what worked for the Australian duo.

One feels that the helplessness of India’s cricketers to excel in conditions that their predecessors thrived in is a result of the policies adopted in domestic cricket. For a better part of the last decade, the Ranji Trophy curators have been informed to keep live grass cover, apparently to prepare for sterner tests overseas. However, it has resulted in the pitches in domestic cricket being so hard that they just don’t break and hardly get spinners into the game, even in the second innings.