India need to rediscover magic with better footwork

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The Pune pitch has come under criticism after the first Test was completed in less than three days. Photo: PTI

Hyderabad: The Pune Test has been done and dusted. It is history now. The Australians took advantage of the toss and demolished India in just three days. There has been a lot of hue and cry over the preparation of the wicket in the first Test. Did India underestimate Australia by opting for a rank turner? Did India’s calculations go wrong? Whatever, the Australians have had the last laugh. Their spin duo of left arm spinner Steve O’Keefe and offie Nathan Lyon exploited the wicket better than the Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav.

Postmortems and introspection done, all focus will be on the Bengaluru wicket when the second Test will be held from March 4. And most probably, they would not make a mistake of preparing a similar wicket. But it was not long ago, at this same venue, on a rank turner, India lost the plot to Imran Khan-led Pakistan although Sunil Gavaskar played one of the greatest Test knocks in vain. But the legendary Indian opener showed the art of batting on a rank turner.

His former Mumbai teammate Vijay Mohan Raj believes that only Gavaskar or GR Viswanath could play such knocks on spiteful wickets. “They played very late and used the depth of the crease. They had excellent footwork. They would either go forward or back. They were very decisive in their footwork. That helped them to play on any conditions. Of course, the other reason those days most of the league matches in Mumbai were played on Pune type of wickets,’’ said Mohan Raj.

But what has hurt India in Pune was the inability of the home batsmen to play the Aussie spinners. Former Test star VVS Laxman in his column for a cricket website however, believes that Indian can bounce back strongly. “There is plenty of time to bounce back from the Pune defeat, especially given the quality that is at Virat (Kohli’s) disposal. It is debatable if there will be a Pune-type pitch for the rest of the series, and I strongly advocate that there should not be. The swiftness of the debacle was astonishing … Pune cannot be wished away as a bad dream,’’ he wrote.

Laxman, who scripted India’s stunning comeback win over the Australians at Eden Gardens in 2001 with a historic 281, continued: “India can use it as a template of what not to do, and emerge stronger by imbibing the lessons. Not for a moment do I have any doubt about my Indian team’s capability to win this series, even from this position.”

The Hyderabadi, who has turned commentator now, felt Australian skipper Steve Smith produced one of the finest hundreds ever seen on Indian soil. “His use of feet is exemplary and his choice of deliveries to attack and defend were near-impeccable. He had his fair share of luck, but to his credit, he made the most of his good fortune … the confidence he will derive from this century simply cannot be put in words.’’

Mohan Raj, who played for Mumbai and Hyderabad in Ranji Trophy, added that the Indians will be bit tentative after the disastrous match at Pune. “There was a touch of overconfidence in the Indians at Pune. They should bat freely. I liked the way Smith batted. He showed good footwork, in fact better than the Indians. On these types of wickets, in the present scenario where technology plays a big role, the batsmen cannot play with the pads any longer. Under the circumstances, the straighter one is the most dangerous delivery as you have to play it and cannot use the pad as the ball tracking system of DRS can go against you. It is all about sound technique, good footwork and playing with soft hands. You have to move front and back to play on turning tracks,’’ concluded Mohan Raj.

The onus is on Virat Kohli and his men to turn the tables on the visitors. The batsmen have to play with a lot of application, determination and positive frame of mind while the bowlers need to be consistent with line.

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