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Lessons from an Australian summer

March 8, 2008

Mark Taylor said it was one of best summers of cricket he has seen in a long time. Others have been claiming that Australia V India is the new Australia V England, which isn’t saying much given those weren’t ever in the vicinity of being contests barring 2005. The long-drawn Commonwealth Bank Series is over and apparently India have had their best overseas tours in history. A 1-2 loss in the test series and winning the ODI series (which is how the marketers would prefer it anyway). Creditable results, those of a dramatic bent of mind can even see signs of an inflection point in the dynamic of the cricket world that is no longer dominated by default by Australia. For me however, the cynical yet idealistic observer, things don’t seem quite right.

Sore winners?

Felicitations by senior politicians and stadiums filled with delirious spectators watching cheques for obscene amounts of money being handed to the team have seem to become the norm since the T20 world cup. The day after Dhoni held the trophy aloft, I was desperately scouring news sources to see a mention of where the team would be touching down on their return trip and heaved a sigh of relief only when I saw mention of the Pherozeshah Kotla. After all, the T20 victory parade in Mumbai cost two (additional) hours of my life during my morning drive to work. The GABBA in Brisbane was not at capacity during the 2nd final because of the fact that it was a working day. Here, you get packed stadiums for a 4 hour presentation ceremony.

Talk is cheap, wickets aren’t

If cricket writers are to be believed, India is going through an economic resurgence and that is evident in the behaviour of its young cricketers. They say the new Indian does not back down and gives as well as he takes. And this explains India’s success. Hence the glorification of every act of pettiness, and of its worst perpetrators. Every news channel currently shows Harbhajan Singh giving lessons in the art of winning. A comparison against Australia’s beleaguered spinner Hogg shows the turbanator to be behind on every parameter except the economy rate. Maybe chest-thumping and flag-waving do not necessarily lead to sporting success.

Bowler Test series (wickets) Test Series (Runs/wicket) ODI Series (wickets) ODI Series (Runs/wicket) ODI Runs/Over
H. Singh 8 61.25 8 34.62 4.25
B. Hogg 8 60.12 8 29.50 4.33

What’s that saying about form and class?

As far as Dhoni and his ‘young brigade’ theory goes, the Indian batting looked like a house of cards till its most senior member found form and scored 48% and 35% of the teams runs in the two finals. Apart from Gambhir, the rest of the batsmen looked like walking wickets for most of the series. Allowing an adjustment to the average for not-outs, the averages and strike rates of the ‘brash new India’ was not anything to do cartwheels for.

Batsman Runs Average Strike Rate Not outs
G. Gambhir 440 55.00 82.70 2
S. Tendulkar 399 44.33 85.25 1
M. Dhoni 347 69.40 73.98 4
R. Sharma 235 33.57 75.56 3
Y. Singh 202 22.44 84.51 0
R. Uthappa 142 20.28 66.35 1

Australia…daylight…the rest

India played some stirring cricket through the tour to run the hosts close in almost every match barring the first test and an ODI. But how much of it was enabled by Australia’s shortcomings? Their top five batsmen with the exception of Hayden and Symonds in the tests had a largely forgettable summer.

Batsman Test Series ODI Series
M. Hayden 82.00 37.25
A. Gilchrist 21.42 32.20
R. Ponting 38.28 19.10
M. Clarke 45.14 39.25
A. Symonds 68.33 19.33

Did India close the gap between itself and the world champions or did the world champions slow down? Not to say that the Indian bowling did not have anything to do with the meager returns, but a few of the dismissals were more batsman error than sustained pressure from the fielding side. But then a flashback to several of Shane Warne’s dismissals (especially against teams like South Africa, England and New Zealand) would show good batsmen playing daft mows at rank long hops and holing out at deep square-leg. Point is that I had never seen as many, to use tennis parlance; ‘unforced errors’ from an Australian team as there were this summer.

It was said that cricket needed a strong West Indian side to flourish. I think cricket needs a strong Australian side to even survive. One can hope that this summer was an aberration and not an indicator of decline in their superlative standards. I for one fervently do so.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2008 4:42 pm

    It’s too early to say for sure that this is an inflexion point, but maybe a person with a less cynical bent of mind :P would reckon that things MIGHT change from here. I agree, India may, true to form, throw it all away yet again, but I also know that there would be no better chance for India to at least be the toughest opponent to play if not world no.1 for a long time, meaning 3-4 years at least.

    I would not read much into the Harbhajan v/s Hogg comparison, but:

    a)Harbhajan bowled flat and fast in the Test series and was therefore ineffective, even he knows that deep down.

    b)Except the second final, Harbhajan was not used much in the death overs and generally was a middle-over operators consistently getting big breakthroughs while Hogg trapped easy lower-order prey, especially Lankans. In my opinion, ‘Harby bowled a lot better in the ODIs, controversy or no controversy.

    As for Australia’s errors, mate, there are two ways to look at Pravin Kumar’s spell in the second final. Either that the Ponting and Clarke wickets were lucky OR that he deserved five wickets in that spell. I don’t think Australia have seen such a good swing bowling display in a long time at home now and naturally they were roasted then and there, nevermind that they pushed it right down to the last over. Same goes for Ishant Sharma’s bowling through the series, he deserved a 5 wicket haul already!!!! I have got one thing to say about Ponting’s captaincy in the CB series: it was LAUGH OUT LOUD. Those who claimed he was more dynamic than Steve Waugh might as well die; he failed or rather haughtily refused to see that India were getting more and more under their skin and growing in confidence and simply didn’t ring in any changes at all, no surprise weapons, nothing, only BIG talk. As Mumbai Mirror summed it up aptly: mouthshut.au!!!!

    As for the victory parade, either you hate T20 or you don’t still realize what it is for India to win a World Cup, especially on the back of such a horrible catastrophe in the Windies. Our city’s traffic sucks bad as it is, it couldn’t have been worse than Anant Chaturdashi anyway!!! :P I do agree though that politicians hijacking the show was a big, sorry waste!!! :(

    Oh, and apologies for the long comment!! :P

  2. March 12, 2008 5:35 pm

    I agree that the Indian batting was nothing to write home about.

    But the bowling, I agree more with your own reservations about your analysis in that penultimate paragraph. :)

    The attack we took to Australia was exceptional. Just to look at one example, when was the last time we took a bowler to Australia that had the pace and control to NOT allow Matthew Hayden to stand half way down the ptich and just swat anything that comes dowm towards the boundary?

  3. Arvind Prahlad permalink
    March 12, 2008 5:58 pm

    This is brilliant!!!
    Someone finally analyses the series without prejudice or assumptions about the superiority or inferiority of one team..

    I in many ways have been suggesting to friends and family, that this australian team is not as strong or infallible as before…

    This series victory, even though is a great acheivement does not necessarily mean Indian cricket has reached its true pottential..

    We must see how India perform against South Africa before we start concluding on the matter..

  4. Saradhi permalink
    March 12, 2008 6:39 pm

    well done mate, gr8 analysis u really r a cynical and idealistic observer. ur article shows some ground to the souls riding high with the success – to a certain extant – that was undue. but, at the same time i do feel that the lads have kept their heads and hearts well. thanks for the two brave and down-to-earth leaders. let us not forget that these are really kids and need some time to seriously challange the veterns, when that happens we will return triumph even when the top five oppenent batsmen have had good averages. then and then, i guess, u will write “india won, unlike the last time when australia lost.” for me, the optimist yet sensible cricket fan, things look quite bright.

  5. Sumit permalink
    March 12, 2008 6:50 pm

    1. if you are an Australian, you are a real sore loser!

    2. If you are English, you are an idiot!

    3. I’m an Indian, and I swear I’m a more vocal critic of my team than I’ve myself met.

    4. The Indian team beat the Aussies fair and square in the ODIs, just the English did last year.

    5. If it were not for diabolical umpiring from a geriatric has-been (whose only chance of being retained in the Elite panel was to favor the traditional rulers of the game) Indian would easily have won at Sydney, and thus the series.

    6. The Aussies, for the 1st time, were stared down, talked down, and mentally disintegrated. The figures presented by you reflect that clearly, only if a daft narrow-visioned blogger such as you could see beyond your wounds. Unforced errors indeed!

    7. For all the venom spewed out by the stunned Aussie media, Harbhajan held his own, and gave it back to everyone with interest. His actions were instigated, not self-motivated. His figures, under such enormous stress, are admirable.

    Try zipping up after a leak with the next man in queue already taking out his tool for your benefit.

    8. All the Aussie players have been paid huge amounts for IPL. The business houses involved cannot be deemed to be philandering idiots. They have their popularity stats in place. If the IPL was held Down Under, would more than 2-3 players have been even auctioned? Whose heart is bigger?

    9. Pray to God that the Aussie team revives itself. Australia has nothing else. India has much much more. It has got its heart, and history, in place.

    10. I forgive your myopic and inane views. Only because you provoked me enough to waste 15 minutes writing to you…

  6. Swami permalink
    March 12, 2008 7:01 pm

    A good article from someone whose cricketing knowledge is purely from statistics. Lets go by the stats since you loooove it:
    * Comparing Harbajan and Hogg in the ODI series is ridiculous (correct your stats). Harbhajan gave away only 4.06 RPO
    * India played 5 bowlers in most of the games. Dhoni, Gambhir and Sharma had some good games. Yuvraj had a couple of good starts. Sachin finished it with a bang. Do you need all 6 batsmen to perform in every single game?
    * I didn’t see any stats showing how good the Aussies were when they chased in this series (they were the worst among the 3 teams)
    * I didn’t see you mention Hussey who had the best series for an Australian batsman.

  7. March 12, 2008 8:20 pm

    Mate, i havent read a more rediculuous article than this on indian win. Its a perfect example of pesemism. Australia have never been pushed like this…and u cant hide this fact..after a long time they were facing the music and the pressure.
    They crumbled in the one day series in finals.

    One day it has to happen…one that goes up has to come down. You are stating some stats of indian batsmen…why dont u compare them with wat australians had to dish out? Ponting, symonds and co.?
    Come on slumber..get out of ur dreamy world..and get a good dose of present…

  8. March 12, 2008 8:21 pm

    Knowing some difficult english words doesnt makes u a sane observer, and it shows in ur writings…full of vocabulary..zero on facts.

  9. Vidushi permalink
    March 12, 2008 8:27 pm

    Your article may have some degrees of truth to it but it seems to be way more cynical that it needs to be. It seems to me that you refuse to enjoy the fact that for once India has managed to defeat Australia in its backyard. It saddens me to see that you refuse to salvage any enjoyment from the win and choose instead to list the negatives instead of the positives that came from this Australian summer.

  10. Grud permalink
    March 12, 2008 8:55 pm

    Alright, here is the thing: I do not agree with you. I’ll explain why. Let’s start with ‘form and class’. True, Sachin had to take it up in the finals. But it was the ‘youngsters’ who got them into the finals (not to take anything away from the master blaster). That is why it is a team sport, every body contributes. Think about the bowlers, without them scores of 240-250 was always easy for the Aussies. The bowlers again were young. Let’s then talk about Aussie form: their best didn’t perform? You just contradicted yourself, neither did the Indians. For Hayden, Sachin didn’t do well in the league stage. For Ponting, Sharma wasn’t at his best. for Symmo, Yuvi was inconsistent as well. So it balanced out. For Lee, Ishant & Pathan for Bracken. So either, neither batting sides performed or both bowling sides performed. True I am not ranking India as the best yet, but it was truely a memorable performance (and a sign for the future hopefully).

  11. sreenivasa rao gunda permalink
    March 12, 2008 9:20 pm

    Very good balanced review. Much appreciated.

    Where I think you have not given credit to Indians is the match from 4/51 to 299 all out chasing 318. Any other indian team in the past would not have scored 200.
    Australia might have slipped no doubt, but surely india did improve.

    You said Australian top 5 failed but the same can be said for the Indian top 4 (Sehwag, Yuvraj, Tendulkar except the finals, Uthappa). Ofcourse Uthappa may not have the average of Australians but he is young, talented and most of all has the hunger to win.

  12. Steve Smith permalink
    March 12, 2008 9:29 pm

    I am not sure how you can call the Indian averages excluding Tendulkar poor when they are above the Australian averages for the most part. The batting conditions were difficult throughout the series, and all batsmen found scoring difficult. In this light, the batting averages can not be seen in isolation but rather relative to other batsmen, and the young Indian batsmen appear to have held their own compared to the highly regarded Aussie batsmen.

    Further, it is not fair to say the Aussies succumbed to unforced errors but to assume the Indians were at the peak of their form. In fact, most Indian wickets also fell to unforced errors, and only one bowler in either side (Lee and Sharma) looked like taking wickets based on bowling ability. It is also unfair to “adjust” for not outs as the fact that Dhoni managed to stay not out, and Symonds didn’t, was a very important contributor to Indian wins.

    I agree that the Indian win was as much due to an Australian decline as an Indian improvement, but just as it doesn’t follow that India is the next dominant force in world cricket, niether does the implication that Australia simply had an “off day” (though they lost 3 of the 5 ODIs against India). In this ODI series, India were a better team than Australia. A lot more cricket needs to be played to say either that Australia had a one-off miss or that India are the next best thing.

  13. Yenjvoy permalink
    March 12, 2008 9:57 pm

    What crap! Anyone who whines about 2 hours lost from his busy life due to a spontaneous celebration of a worldcup win should not be wasting precious time from said busy life blogging about cricket anyway. Your effort at using statistical analysis to explain the cause of Australia’s decline this summer only shows your superficial understanding of the game. Harbhajan’s impact on this series, both in one-days and Tests cannot be explained away by his 8 wickets in each form of the game. He occupied the Australian mindspace like no other player in recent memory, and managed to get their best players distracted from playing the game in the same way that Australia had been doing to other teams in the years past. The Aussie players were exposed as bullies who can dish it out but can’t take it.
    And, unforced errors? Excuse me, but there is no such thing as an unforced error in sport. Every move is a reaction to something your opponent does. If a batsman gets out to a ball that did not deserve the wicket, he was thinking about something else – home ground pressure, sledging, Harbhajan, the previous ball, the next ball, the scoreboard, the require run rate or anything else. This uncertainty is a direct result of the opponent team’s actions, and there is nothing unforced. Bottomline, the Indian team played extraordinarily well, and the Australians declined with every match they played to the extent that their players started retiring from the game. The Indians played with injuries but did not give an inch. The Australians were not physically hurt but collapsed mentally and looked drained and jaded at the end. Sports is about spirit and character, and the Indians showed more of it. That deserves a celebration. If your precious life is disturbed as a result, well maybe you should stay home and blog more nonsense.

  14. Deepanjan Datta permalink
    March 12, 2008 10:50 pm

    Agreed ! .. a lot of Aussies were off color and a collective failure, is what India capitalized on. Then again, this is exactly what Australia have traditionally capitalized on. Weren’t those great champions (whose loss is being felt for the first time) McGrath and Warne, the masters of this art of working on opposition batsmen s’ patience till ‘unforced errors’ came out.

    The stats do tell a lot, but not the whole picture. As Ponting admitted, MCG and Gabba were two of the prominent departures from the friendly tarmacs batsmen have gotten used to. Not that overnight the Australian top order have lost class, or Indians have unearthed diamonds in their bowling attack. But its a combination, of consistent thinking bowling, some snatches of brilliance, keeping key men under pressure, oppositions’ overconfidence and some luck which caused the eventual results.

    Only those who have been hungry enough, did adapt. No amount of sustained pressure could stem Hayden, or Clarke. It mostly took brilliance, or self destruction to take them down. Similarly a man, who has spent more than half his life playing cricket still was driven enough to contribute and hold his place in ODI team with men half his age vying for spots.

    Not that its the change in world order yet, consistency is where Aussies have aced the rest. But consistently over the past decade have they been stretched to the limit by only one team, they know its India… so do the Indians.

  15. March 12, 2008 11:35 pm

    Mate, you seem to have a lot of time on your hand. It seems to me that you may have spent the same amount of time thinking and writing this blog as those that spent 4 hours in Delhi cheering their team.

    Sour grapes anyone….two things…one is that while harbhajan may have not performed as loftily as brad hogg, but he was “clutch”. Maybe that matters for little.

    Also the famed aussie batting order had unforced errors..could it have anything to do with the sustained pressure that the indian pacers put on them..last time there was a great pace attack (the english ’05 attack), the famed aussie batting lineup did not fire as well. Maybe there is a trend here…

    The aussie team will always be a top team…so give others credit when it is due.

  16. Arun permalink
    March 13, 2008 12:02 am

    For a change, we lost statistically and won the series. What matters in the end is winning. The Australians won the test series with Bucknor and lost the ODI without him. He was really the difference. We could quote all kinds of stats but the bottomline is India bowled the right balls when it mattered and held their nerve when it got tough. Australians used their mouths a little too much and paid the price. They haven’t gotten any less better but they are now wary of the Indians for the first time.

  17. March 13, 2008 12:39 am

    Hi donthaveaclue,
    Well I’m not a cricket expert but then I know that cricket is a team game and when we say team it means when someone is not doing well another pitches in. If you agree with me on this then why are you comparing individuals. Maybe Bradd was better than Harbhajan and I’m sure you can draw similar lines endlessly but then individuals doesn’t make cricket. Hope you agree!! write to me if you want to debate……lokiheed@gmail.com

  18. Ruffian permalink
    March 13, 2008 12:57 am

    OK Dude! Thanks for all that crap. Here’s a precious advice for you, “Watch the contest before commenting on it”. Your comments at start do seem to be valid but the so-called point you were trying to make of the Indian bowlers not taking wickets, instead Australian batsmen gifting them away is ridiculous.

    At the end of the day, what they did or how they did does matter. No matter what case/point you present the fact is these bunch of young lads spearheaded by an old veteran achieved something that all the greats in the past could not. Also, the old veteran himself shined only in the finals, so it was a pretty decent series for all our batsmen.

    No matter what you think or interpret out of it, whether you like it or not, we have won against the “hard and fair” Australians.

    Individual greatness matters very little in team games. Example, our own little master could not win us a world cup, considering he is the greatest of ODI batsmen.

  19. Justin permalink
    March 13, 2008 7:12 am

    As an Australian cricket fan, I have enjoyed the summer of cricket provided by the Indian team. India can hold it’s head high. So often teams come here and leave with reputations in tatters, players broken. Some of the Indian players have enhanced their reputations such as Ishant Sharma who has really impressed. It must be hard for someone so young to tour a country for two months against the best team in the world. He has done well. Sachin Tendulkar has proven why he is one of the best batsmen ever. Other players have left a sour taste in the mouth however and one in particular should hang his head.
    India have finished a succesful tour of Australia but now need to show some consistency. We have seen it before where a team concentrates so much on beating Australia that they play above themselves and produce some fantastic results such as 2005 Ashes. What makes a team great is getting these sort of results every series. Remember that every team would love to knock Australia off it’s perch so Australia plays against teams that “steele” themselves for a big series. There are no easy matches for the Australians and to be number 1, a team needs to be consistent. It would be great to see India show some consistancy so that the next time the two nations meet in a test series it would truly be the battle for the world championship. For this to happen, both Australia and India need to win every series they play in between now and then.

  20. Abhay Kulkarni permalink
    March 13, 2008 7:44 am

    I totally agree on the fact that we over-celebrated (if such a word exists) the victory in Australia. The lumpsum awards and felicitations after a tour victory should be totally banned. Afterall, these cricketers are paid more than handsomely. The market forces would give them the additional compensation they need via advertisement contracts (not to mention the performance clauses in the contracts the players have with BCCI).

    However, I don’t quite agree with you on the performance front. Granted the rest of the batting did not deliver as is evident in the numbers. However, numbers can sometimes lie. Take for example Rohit Sharma’s performance. He played 2 innings which contributed to an Indian win.
    Also, our bowling was also a standout performer. Except for Irfan Pathan – all bowlers bowled better than their peers from Aus or SL.

    I am delighted that the team performed so well. But I am not over the top. The forthcoming series with SA will tell us where India stands. If Steyn plays we will also know what would have happened had McGrath been in the Australian side (Shane Warne’s impact on Ind-Aus series has always been very small).

    -Abhay

  21. Sayontan permalink
    March 15, 2008 2:13 am

    While I agree with the basic premise that the public’s response to the team’s victory has been over the top, I don’t concur with the stats that you have presented. For one, Harbhajan in the ODIs was leagues ahead of Hogg. Remember the first final – he got hammered during the powerplays, but later returned to remove Hayden and Symonds, effectively scuppering the Aussie innings. And he repeated this in the second final (though Hayden was run out this time). I don’t have the scores open in front now, but I am pretty sure that Hayden was the top scorer (or almost the top scorer) both the times and Symonds wasn’t doing that badly himself.

    Another fact that should be pointed out is that the best batsman throughout the ODI series was actually Dhoni. The normal trend during the league phase was that Gambhir batted while everyone got out, till Dhoni joined him in the middle. Even in matches that Gambhir did not perform well Dhoni was great. Look at some of the league matches – we got to 267/4 in the washed out match against Sri Lanka after being 90/4. And we managed 299 chasing 317. All of this happened without Tendulkar and certainly didn’t have the semblance of a house of cards.

    And while Tendulkar’s best performances were in the finals for a change, he wasn’t awful in the league. He scored 63 in the last league match against Sri Lanka and 44 in another match. In the matches where he did not fare well, some of them were to outstanding deliveries that would dismiss any batsman.

    All in all the victory was well deserved and India was definitely the better team on display. And while I am very happy that we beat Australia in Australia, I won’t celebrate till we have beaten South Africa.

  22. March 23, 2008 6:04 am

    This blog is your space to speak out your thoughts.

    It doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong today. Time will tell you if you have been right or wrong in your assessments.

    If you are indeed, right you will never see those who ridicule you today, for you may find them singing a different tune elsewhere. If you have been wrong, acknowledge it with grace.

    But never give in to the bullies.
    There will be many.

    Welcome to the strange world of blogging.
    Thanks to the internet we have all become experts in every subject.

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