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India’s top-order fails to rise to the occasion, again

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Last updated on 08 Jun 2023 | 08:00 PM
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India’s top-order fails to rise to the occasion, again

Every team longs for consistency from its top order. The Indian batters have been consistent — at being inconsistent

Error 404: contribution from the top-order not found

Here’s a telling statistic: David Warner, whose credentials as a Test batter away from home has been perennially memed (and was memed ahead of this final too), ended up scoring more than India’s top three batters combined. And he did so despite batting in discernibly trickier conditions.

This alone sums up the state of India’s top-order in Tests currently. Nobody ‘expects’ the top four (well, barring Rohit at least) to make runs unless the conditions are dead flat, like it was in Ahmedabad a couple of months ago. Barring the odd occasion, the Top 4 has been dysfunctional for so long that 100/4 has sort of become the norm, notwithstanding the conditions and opposition. 

After a cataclysmic showing with the ball (overall), India needed a strong response with the bat to stay in the contest. Both Rohit and Gill, like they did in the inaugural WTC final, started off briskly, but 30/0 became 71/4 in the blink of an eye. 

Rohit was trapped in front by Cummins, while Gill and Pujara both were bowled after ill-fated leaves. Kohli, meanwhile, edged one to second slip off Starc after being undone by extra bounce.

It’s hard not to look at Pujara’s failure as the most disappointing of the lot. He’s been piling on the runs for Sussex (Division 2, yes, but runs are runs) — 545 runs @ 68.12 — and is well acclimated to the conditions, having played in England since the start of April. 

This was supposed to be *his* stage to shine. And mind you, he sort of owes the team one: the management have been willing to carry him for his experience despite underwhelming returns for the best part of three years.

However, he walked back for 14 off 25 balls after misjudging a nip-backer from Cameron Green of all bowlers. There’s a general belief that the first innings is where Tests are usually set-up: Pujara, outside Asia, now averages 18.69 in the first innings since 2020; this number further drops to an eye-watering 9.9 since June 2021. 

Pujara, though, is only a part of the problem. The truth is that India’s Top 4, which is averaging 32.8 since the last WTC final (second-worst among the Top 7 teams), has let the team down time and again. Thursday was no different. 

They’ve gotten away with it at home due to their outstanding lower-order but prior to the final, we looked at why the team will suffer if the top-order fails. On Day 2, the fears came true. Not for the first time, Jadeja tried his best but one man can only do so much. 

Every team longs for consistency from its top order. The Indian batters have been consistent — at being inconsistent. 

Australia’s bowling delivers the goods — despite not firing on all cylinders 

In a way, it can be claimed that barring Scott Boland, none of the Australian pacers were at their absolute best. While Starc did not get his radar right for a good part of the 54 balls he bowled, Cummins was uncharacteristically undisciplined — he leaked runs at 4 RPO and overstepped four times; one of those no-balls dearly cost the side as Ajinkya Rahane got a huge let-off.

And yet, despite the sun beating down, the Aussies had India five down for 151 at stumps. That speaks volumes of the potency of the Kangaroos’ bowling line-up.

What was evident from the 38 overs Australia bowled on Day 2 was that they hugely benefited from the variety their bowling attack possessed. 

India had four seamers, but at least three (Shami, Siraj and Umesh) were of the same profile — right-arm, fast-medium, attacking bowlers of average height. Hence the adjustments the Aussie batters needed to make were minimal. 

Life was not so easy for the Indian batters, who were being tested by four seamers who brought completely different profiles along with them. 

Starc brought with him the left-arm angle along with some venom; Boland brought impeccable accuracy; Green brought a very high release point; Cummins, meanwhile, brought all the aforementioned traits (minus the left-arm angle). And thanks to being tall, every single bowler managed to extract significantly higher bounce than what the Indian seamers did, on a noticeably quick Oval wicket. 

This clearly unsettled Rohit’s men, who found it impossible to get into a rhythm. 

And when one batter (Jadeja) finally managed to settle, he was sent back to the pavilion by Nathan Lyon. (ahem, ahem). Relentless.

A lot of credit for what Australia did with the ball today has to go to Cummins, who was super proactive with his captaincy. 

Australia began with Starc, but after two erratic overs (0/14), Cummins took the bold yet smart move to withdraw the left-armer from the attack. He immediately introduced Boland, in just the fifth over, and it was the maiden that the Victorian bowled that allowed the Kangaroos to settle with the ball and set-up the mini-collapse that followed. 

Cummins then curiously bowled Green alongside Boland on the other side of the Tea break. What seemed like a questionable move at first soon ended up turning into a masterstroke as Green got the better of Pujara in just his second over. 

The move to introduce Lyon into the attack was somewhat proactive too. With just six overs left in the day, Cummins could easily have chosen to just bowl the pacers, or maybe give a token over to Lyon towards the end of the day’s play. But he used his ace spinner as an attacking option and reaped rewards for it, with Lyon sending Jadeja back to the pavilion on his 9th ball.

And though Australia did not pick up any wickets in the final three overs of the day, Cummins again was proactive when KS Bharat walked in. Sensing pace would be comparatively more difficult for the new batter to face up-front, he immediately withdrew Lyon — despite the offie having just taken a wicket — and brought Boland into the attack. Bharat survived — barely — but the line of thought was spot on. 

Danger signs for India, then. On Thursday, Australia managed to snare five wickets despite not being at their very best. Things could get extremely arduous on Friday should the Kangaroos move up a couple of gears with the ball, which they are capable of doing.

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