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Rahul, Rohit steady India's reply

Smith leads the way with another authoritative ton as Australia’s batsmen dismantle clueless India bowling

Rahul, Rohit steady India's reply - Cricket News
Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul shared an unbeaten 71-run stand.
There was an air of the inevitable about how play unfolded on a blazing hot summer’s day at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday (January 7). The second day of a Test match is often the best for batting, and it did not help India’s cause that there wasn’t even an illusion of a bowling attack working in unison.
 
For the record, Australia declared when the seventh wicket fell with 572 on the board, each of its top six batsmen making at least a half-century, something it had not managed in 772 previous attempts. Steve Smith made his fourth century in as many matches, and Shane Watson failed to convert once more. India lost an early wicket and its newest top order-pairing of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma stabilised the innings to 71 for 1.
 
If that was the news from the second day, it was certainly not the story of the day. The story, unfortunately, was a numbingly familiar one in which India’s bowling attack, save for R Ashwin, asked almost no questions of the batsmen.
 
The most jarring reflection of this was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who sent down 34 wicketless overs. The numbers don’t quite reflect just how odd his selection was. Despite having never bowled with a Kookaburra in Tests – Bhuvneshwar has only ever handled the English Duke or the Indian SG ball – there were always question marks over how much swing he would get. And, what exactly the captain would do with him if there was no swing on offer.
 
To be fair to Bhuvneshwar, he was accurate, but to describe that as a virtue when the ball is coming through at between 110 and 120 kmh in a Test match is a bit like calling a vintage car quaint when you actually mean run down. That Bhuvneshwar is not back to match fitness was beyond doubt, although the India team insists he was good to go before the start of this Test match.
 
If Bhuvneshwar was perhaps the equivalent of a bowling machine set to gentle mode, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami were more robust, but hardly any more effective. Each time a new batsman came to the crease, and this always happened at the end of a chunky partnership, he was welcomed by a long half-volley or a legside dolly. The occasional time when the bowlers bent their backs, presumably aiming for the batsman’s skull, the ball sailed so high over the top that it would have sailed over the head of Shaquille O’Neal standing on a stool.
 
Shami ended with five wickets, and was keen to dismiss the suggestion that any of India’s bowlers struggled for consistency, but the manner in which both he and Umesh reacted when the ball came to them in the outfield told a different story. Even after bowling off a considerably shortened run, Umesh showed signs of distress whenever called upon to gather the ball and send it back from the outfield.


 
The manner in which Smith has handled India’s bowlers all series – and he could not recollect a single passage of play where he struggled or choose one bowler who troubled him, when asked about it – shows just how far behind India’s bowlers have been. In Adelaide, India could not get him out and his scores were 162* and 52*. In Brisbane, Smith had 133 to his name in the first innings before a ball from Ishant Sharma jagged back in to beat a tired shot and in the second dig, it took a run out to send him on his way. In Melbourne, Smith was bowled attempting a Twenty20 ramp shot on 192, hardly something the bowler could take credit for. In the second innings at the MCG, the leg-slip fielder put in place as a run-saving measure pulled off a stunner. Over to Sydney, and Smith had 117 in the kitty before nicking off to a half-volley that should have been comfortably put away. If India’s bowlers are honest to themselves, they will admit that they have not been able plan and execute Smith’s downfall even once in the series.
 
The tunnel vision with which this India team is going about its business came to the fore at the fall of the fifth wicket when Brad Haddin took guard. Virat Kohli, newly anointed skipper of the side, instantly put himself in the batsman’s space, standing a bit too close for comfort, and had chirped away. Perhaps this was a reaction to Haddin’s “It’s all about you” sledge to Kohli from the previous Test, but the fact that India’s captain thought this was the best time to return the compliment was mildly amusing, as the scoreboard read 529 for 5. And, after that elaborate stirring, what does Shami serve up to Haddin first thing? A juicy, pitched up offering that was contemptuously lifted back over the bowler’s head for a straight six.
 
The surface on which this Test is being played is so good for batting at the moment, that it may seem churlish to criticise the bowling repeatedly. But, close-knit units do more than what India’s managed. Perhaps, the comfort of playing on quilted pitches back home, where the game can be forced in one session, has given India’s bowlers a false sense of their own ability. If the team admits that there is a problem, this would be the first step in trying set about on course correction. Otherwise, expect more than just Day 2 of Test matches to be good for batting when India’s bowlers are on display.

To see the full scorecard of the fourth Test between Australia and India in Sydney, click here

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