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December 14, 1999

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Change the batting order

Harsha Bhogle

Deep down inside we were hoping for a fight. We didnít get it.

Even though the match was gone, it really was over the moment Rahul Dravid was out on the fourth evening, this was a great opportunity for the lower order to play themselves in. It would have done two things: it would have made the tail a contributor and it would have told Australia that the batting does not end with Sourav Ganguly.

Sadly they cracked and a team that is all out in 38 overs has serious problems.

The sad part is that India learnt nothing from this match; they merely confirmed what we knew, though we werenít able to put it quite as bluntly as others.

The key to doing well overseas is to get a good start and I donít remember the last time India got one. If the openers are going to get knocked over consistently, the middle order is always under pressure from a set of bowlers who are charged up. The pity is there arenít any in domestic cricket either and nobody really wants to do anything about it.

Against a team that is better than you, this is a handicap that cannot be overcome.

If they sit down to analyse the match, the Indians will discover that of the 13 sessions in the match, they only won 3; on the first, third and fourth mornings. Each time Australia bounced back and they did it not by being patient and waiting for the tide to change but by seizing matters. It comes from self-confidence and India are too much in awe of things to search for it just yet.

There were a few critical phases in the match. First, after lunch on the first day, when Ponting went after Ganguly and set the pace for the rest of the day. It was poor thinking and poor attitude; something that was to haunt India again and again.

India should have, with a bit of luck, run Steve Waugh out. Or so the team would think. But hitting the stumps is not always a matter of luck. If it was, every team would hit it an identical number of times. If some teams hit the stumps oftener than others, it is because they try harder. They practice doing it all the time and those that are willing to labour at it will tell you that it is not a great skill. But it has to be done and we donít.

But surely Warne should have been caught when he was 12. Admittedly the Australians missed some as well but a team cannot present that excuse. Funnily, India fielded quite well generally but those two lapses cost them very dear.

Then, on the second evening, India exposed its defensive state of mind. The three batting stars all dropped one number and Waugh must have been delighted to see that. His bowlers were as well and McGrath and Warne bowled a superb spell that, in all fairness, they were allowed to.

For the third, and a major part of the fourth, day the match was pretty even really. Having conceded a lead of 156, the Indian bowlers bowled beautifully. They showed the heart for a scrap and it was really pleasing to see. You couldnít help remembering Kapil Devís words from Sydney - "The bowlers might do better than the batsmen".

They did, didnít they?

India desperately need to change their batting order. Gandhi is very shaky at the top and Prasad is one position too high at number seven. Laxman should ideally be batting at number six and Agarkar is not the answer at number seven. Also, the big guns have to return to where they belong. As you can see, it creates quite a mess because if Laxman moves up to open the innings, India need to play either Bharadwaj or Kanitkar at number six. In the kind of form they are in, that is a scary thought.

Sunil Gavaskar had a thought that might work and for that, India must retain Mongia and ask him to go up. It will be very hard on Prasad who did very little wrong in this match but he thinks the solution might be to open with Ramesh and Mongia, bat Laxman at number six and create room for another batsman, like Bharadwaj, at number seven.

Compare these two teams for balance and depth : Ramesh, Mongia, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Bharadwaj, Agarkar, Srinath, Kumble, Prasad.

Ramesh, Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Bharadwaj, Prasad, Agarkar, Srinath, Kumble, Prasad.

The third option, of course, is to play the same team that played here with Laxman going to number six.

It would be hard on Gandhi and Prasad but I think team 1 works the best.

Harsha Bhogle

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