It happens once, you can live with it. It happens twice, you start to take notice. It happens again and you get worried. It keeps happening and you rush to hit the panic button.
Indian cricket fans have been pressing that button with such urgency that it is beginning to peel off. The defeat in the Perth Test against Australia was yet another instance of the Indian team failing to chase down a fourth-innings total in an away Test in 2018.
India started the year by failing to chase down targets of 208 and 287 in South Africa, Then in the five-Test series in England, the Indians failed to cross the finish line when they were given gettable targets of 194 and 245. And against Australia in Perth, they fell short of the victory target of 287.
Even one successful fourth-innings chase would have give the Indian batting line-up some credibility, especially because they are masters when it comes to chasing any total in one-day cricket.
The pitches in South Africa, England and Australia were by no means minefields where no line-up could possibly chase. Yes, the bowling attacks of the opposition was good on all occasions, but India capitulated against the finger spin of Moeen Ali in England and Nathan Lyon in Australia. And that makes it even more difficult to comprehend.
The Indian team has hardly had any problem chasing down tall totals in ODI. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been voracious in ODI cricket, thriving while chasing targets approaching or exceeding 300. In the last 12 months, India have successfully chased down targets of more than 200 seven times against teams like England, Pakistan and South Africa. Surely they could have have done it at least once in Tests.
It all boils down to belief. India’s top order in white-ball cricket of Rohit, Dhawan and Shikhar is one of the most daunting in contemporary history. They have been successful at what they do for more than five years together and know how to get the job done. They did it when MS Dhoni was the captain and the transition was smooth when Kohli took over.
But when Kohli took over as the Test captain, some pillars of India batting lost their strength. Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara just couldn’t raise their game at a stage of their careers when batsmen should be at their peak. Pujara and Rahane have found their feet in Australia but before that, it truly was Kohli or bust for India in away Tests.
Their long tail gets exposed regularly in Tests, which does not happen often in ODIs. And moreover, in ODIs, there are three top-class batsmen at one two and three, plus the still dependable MS Dhoni to rotate the strike lower down the order. India’s Test team simply does not have that luxury.
Which is why Indian fans might have to remain content with watching their favourite batsmen tear opposition bowling apart in ODI chases while getting caught like deer in headlights when chasing anything above 150 in Tests.
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