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India v Australia 2022/23

Small mistakes make big difference for skipper Rohit Sharma

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

India slumped to their third Test defeat in over a decade, going down by nine wickets to Australia at Indore. Sarah Waris looks back at the loss and figures out where Rohit Sharma got it wrong.

On a rank turner, Australia bowled out India for 109 in the first innings and never relinquished the control, eventually becoming the first team to beat India in India in two years. Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, no India batter looked at ease in the seven-session Test match, with the lack of runs leaving ‘Magic Men’ R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with a tall task.

It began with the very first ball of the match. Rohit tentatively poked a good-length ball from Mitchell Starc, who was returning from injury, and wicketkeeper Alex Carey appealed for a catch. Rohit was given not out and Australia did not review, but it was a prelude for things to come.


Three balls later, Rohit survived a clear lbw – because Australia did not review again. Yet, he could not latch onto his opportunities, and was stumped for 12, dancing down the track to Matt Kuhnemann. The in-form Rohit, who had made a hundred in the first Test, had earlier opted to bat on a turner where batters needed to show patience and application. Matthew Hayden called Rohit ‘complacent’ , adding that it was the arrogance in India’s approach after they had taken a 2-0 lead in the series that led them to be bowled out for a low score.

With a small score, Rohit immediately turned to his spinners. He probably missed a trick as he adopted a defensive field setting, trying to cut down on the boundaries instead of taking an attacking approach. It led to a few easy singles as Australia piled on 77-1 in 22 overs. Ashwin and Jadeja combined to bowl 17 of the 22 overs by tea on day one, either bowling too full or short, unable to find the ideal length on a turner.

The duo sent down the first 13 overs of the innings before Rohit turned to Axar Patel, who could have been handier on the surface. Axar is capable of hitting the immaculate length on turners, while his round-arm action ensures he beats or finds the edge with the spinning ball. Despite averaging 14.70 in nine Test matches at home, Axar bowled only 13 overs in the innings, out of the 76.3 that Australia faced – though, to be fair, one can understand if a captain backs great spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja.

Though Ashwin and Jadeja shared seven wickets and Australia slid from 186-4 to 197, it was perhaps too late in the day. Amidst the desperation, India erred with the DRS, and eventually missed out on Marnus Labuschagne’s wicket not once but twice on day one.

Labuschagne had not got a run when Jadeja dismissed him, only for the decision to be overturned because the latter had overstepped. Not long afterwards, Jadeja coaxes Rohit to review twice in four overs, when he defeated Usman Khawaja by the low bounce but the ball pitched way outside the leg, and when a sharp turning delivery pinning Khawaja again: even to the naked eye, it was obvious that the second one was missing the stumps.

The twin failures with the DRS left India with a missed chance in the 11th over when Labuschagne took a big stride forward off Ashwin, and the ball beat his edge. India, having been reduced to their final review, decided against going for the DRS despite KS Bharat’s insistence: it would have been out. Labuschagne, then on seven, went on to score 31 – an invaluable contribution in a low-scoring match.

Fielders typically chip in to voice their opinions on the DRS, but as the first innings went by, despair paved the way for some bizarre calls, the responsibility for which must lie with the Rohit. After all, the right to review lies with the captain of the fielding side and not the entire team.

India, who had already conceded control of the game after the end of the first innings by conceding an 88-run lead, were reduced to 113-5 in the second when Bharat, who had made 6, 23 not out, and 17 in his Test career, walked in ahead of Axar, who had scored two crucial knocks in the first two Tests to take and was left stranded on 12 in the first innings at Indore as well.

Bharat has a first-class batting average of 37.21, while Axar’s batting prowess has been on the rise in the last year. He was slated at No.9 in the team sheet, below Ashwin, who has played handy knocks in the series, but Axar has looked more assured. He was left stranded in the second innings as well, on 15. A promotion could have added valuable runs, which could made things difficult for Australia when they chased. Instead, Axar batted with the tail, and India missed an opportunity to maximise their batting strength.

There is also an argument that India could have played four bowlers, with one quick. Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav sent down only 13 overs in Indore – with Umesh’s 3-12 changing the game in the first innings. Siraj has bowled only 24 overs across three Test matches, averaging 73. India have gone for a five-bowler attack recently, but they could have adopted a horses-for-courses policy, for they were unlikely to use two fast bowlers in tandem.

Mohammed Shami, Siraj and Umesh have bowled 61.1 overs in the series. Dropping one of them could have opened up a spot for Ishan Kishan or Suryakumar Yadav in the middle order. On Indian tracks, a quick-scoring batter can be useful to force the opposition to change their line or length or field placements. That is something India could have done with during Cheteshwar Pujara’s 142-ball innings.

With only 109 on the board, it was always going to be difficult. In the history of men’s Test cricket, only nine times has a team won after a first-innings total that small – and five of them were before 1908. The Test match was as good as dusted after the first-innings collapse against finger-spin bowled with metronomic precision, for which Rohit can hardly be blamed.

But when India needed their captain to take crucial decisions on the field. Rohit could have been tactically on point, perhaps picking the extra batter or making different bowling changes or putting more fielders around the bat or taking the right DRS calls. If captains are celebrated in wins, they should be held just as accountable in defeats.

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