Melbourne, Dec 30: The fact that India lost the first Test to Australia primarily because of a batting debacle reinforces the culpability of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Batting practice in match conditions is what tourists essentially need to come to grips with the new environment. Even the air is alien in Australia as compared to India, let alone wickets, outfields, size of grounds and crowd support.
In effect, the BCCI sent the Indian cricketers on a suicide mission, with no concern whatsoever for national prestige. Warm-up games are advisable even against Bangladesh, forget Australia, the toughest challenge in world cricket.
India were eclipsed because of three factors. The solidity of the Australian opening combination, which ensured a competitive total; the Indian batting collapse on the second day, when the wicket was at its best; and the spineless surrender in the second innings.
The Indian bowlers performed no worse than their Australian counterparts. But the visitors' ground fielding was light years behind. Indeed, the home side's out-cricket was so sharp, that even when their bowling was average, they maintained pressure on the Indian batsmen by not allowing a single easy run.
In the first innings, Wasim Jaffer didn't have much of a choice when a delivery left him from around off-stump. But in the second outing, he did have an option, yet decided to cover drive a ball off the back foot, which he could have ignored.
The importance of a good opening stand cannot be over-emphasised. India's success in Australia four years ago was founded on invaluable starts provided by Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra. Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik had recently provided stability to the top order. Century partnerships in South Africa and England were, in fact, evidence of their capabilities.
To disturb the association was, therefore, a mistake. To ask Rahul Dravid to open when he has not been in the best of forms of late was another error. It is foolish to mess around to accommodate an individual, though it would, now, be unfair not to retain Yuvraj Singh for the second Test.
Dravid responded by being ultra-defensive, thinking perhaps he is only expect to blunt the pace threat. He has forgotten that he's one of the best batsmen in the world, who is quite capable of executing his task with flair rather than obduracy.
Ironically, he saw off the quicks, but perished to the off-spin of Andrew Symonds, who had switched to this mode only in that over. The length of the ball caused uncertainty, as Dravid went forward, then back to be trapped lbw by a sharply turning off-break that kept low.
The biggest disappointment, though, was Sachin Tendulkar. Refreshingly, he was more positive than Dravid, but this was no occasion to play shots. This being Australia, he bent too low to cut. Not surprisingly, the result was a top edge. In playing such a stroke, the bat should ideally be over the ball so as to enable the batsman to roll his wrists while unfurling the shot.
VVS Laxman, sensibly eliminated his favourite onside flicks - lest they go in the air because of the variable bounce - but launched into a cover drive, which he failed to hit into the ground. And Mahendra Dhoni unnecessarily chased a wide ball he could well have left alone. Thus, five of the seven specialist batsmen departed in circumstances, which were not unavoidable.
The excess of limited overs cricket that is thrust upon the Indian players - on easy batting wickets anywhere in the world - because of the BCCI's money-making agenda, renders otherwise talented players like Yuvraj (who got an awkward "flipper" from Brad Hogg) and Dhoni ill-equipped for the vagaries of sporting pitches.
The Australian spinners exploited "roughs" created by the faster bowlers' footmarks. But there was little assistance from the pitch for the pacemen. Brett Lee or Stuart Clarke were steady rather than threatening, but this itself paid dividends, aided as was by Adam Gilchrist standing right up to the latter when he saw Sourav Ganguly stepping out to the medium pacer.
While the Australian batting has adjusted to the retirements of Justin Langer and Damien Martyn, their bowling lacks the experience or edge of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. They are beatable if the Indian batting asserts itself and the Dad's Army's fielding is not too much of a liability.