Fight it out: Tendulkar to India ahead of Boxing Day test

The only way out for the Indian cricketers to overcome the crushing defeat to Australia in the first Test is to “fight it out” and do “something magnificent” in the remaining three matches that would change negative thinking, cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar has said in an exclusive interview with IANS.

Failure of top-order batsmen was largely responsible for India’s eight-wicket mauling in Adelaide, but Tendulkar, 47, doesn’t feel that it was due to pressure on the players. The batting maestro, who aggregated 34,357 runs and 100 centuries in international cricket, says it were technical flaws that impacted the top-order batsmen. He, particularly, noticed one big shortcoming in most frontline batsmen — absence of a solid forward defence, a technical flaw that became more pronounced by the lack of a big stride forward.

Also, Tendulkar points out that it would have been better if India would have started the tour with the T20I series, then played the ODIs, and finally the Test series — with the last match being with the pink ball. That would have been an ideal transition from white ball to red ball to pink ball.

But India began the Test series with a pink ball day-night encounter, which Virat Kohli’s team India lost by eight wickets, and now trail 0-1. But there are three more matches to go in the series for India to stage a comeback and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. In 2018-19, India had won the previous series 2-1 — their first ever on Australian soil.

The second Test starts on December 26 in Melbourne.

Part 1 of the exclusive interview:

Q: Did you have any apprehension that the Australians would have the upper hand in the first Test as it was a day-night Test with a pink ball at which the Indians have limited experience?

A: The first Test itself was a bit of apprehension because I felt that the last Test we had played before the Adelaide Test was in February and after that no cricket was played (due to Covid-19 pandemic). Everyone was preparing for the Indian Premier League, which was a T20 format. According to me the ideal transition would have been that after the IPL you go to Australia and start with the T20 series, ODIs, and then the Test series with the red ball (regular Test match timings), and the last match being with the pink ball (adapting to pink ball Test match timings) that one is not so used to. By playing red ball Test matches first, the transition would have been a smoother to pink ball Test, according to me.

Q: And what your apprehension was, or what you feared, has come true?

A: Feared in the sense that, to be fair, in the first innings we had the upper hand and started off really well. There was no apprehension as such; just that when I looked at the itinerary, what I said earlier was a better option, I felt. We played good cricket in the first innings, but in the second, that hour was a difficult one and that’s when things changed. Also, when Tim Paine came and scored those crucial runs. Had our first-innings been closer to 90 or 100 or so, it would have changed the thinking, and also the timing was crucial. That played a big part in this Test.

Q: Were you expecting this result, particularly in the manner in which the Indian batting line-up capitulated in the second innings?

A: No, I wasn’t expecting it because I thought in the first innings we batted well and showed a lot of resilience. In the second innings, there was not much playing and missing by our batsmen. The ball wasn’t moving around too much; just a little bit. Normally, when batters score runs we don’t look at other elements, like the number of times he was beaten etc. But here we talk about a number of aspects when the batter has edged the ball. Off similar deliveries when you got beaten and when you are scoring runs and nobody talks about those.

One change that one can talk about was getting a nice, big stride forward, which I felt was missing. In foreign conditions, I feel a good stride forward against fast bowlers becomes important. A half and half defence (short stride) can always trouble you and if there’s a little more movement off the seam then your hands tend to compensate for the lack of footwork. What I also simultaneously noticed was that the Australians bowled very much on off stump — much, much tighter — and not outside the off stump whereas they bowled outside the off stump in the first innings.

Q: What were the shortcomings for the undoing of Indian batsmen — was it their inability to tackle the moving ball, or just the enormity of the situation, having made just 244 runs in the first innings?

A: We surely had an upper having made just 244 in the first innings and having gotten them out below 200 (191) in the first innings. And we lost Prithvi Shaw early and then I still remember Jasprit Bumrah played that evening — and how the team responded to that. Overall, the feeling was good in the dressing room. The next morning that only element that I felt could have been better was a little more precision in footwork, more so while playing on the front foot — getting a nice, full stride forward, which I spoke about earlier here. If you get a nice stride forward while defending then your hands stay close to your body. When your stride is not nicely stretched forward then your hands tend to go away from the body, towards the ball. I would say that getting a good stride forward can help a lot of players.

Q: And the enormity of the situation…?

A: I don’t think so because when Mayank (Agarwal) and Bumrah were batting we were almost 60 runs ahead of Australia with one wicket down. So, even if we had scored 225 runs, plus 53 runs (of innings lead), you would have looked at a 275-280 run target, which would have been a match-winning target. The match was tilted in our favour (at 60 for 1), I would say, when the third morning started. Of course, the first session was going to be critical because invariably teams plan overnight and come up with fresh plans sometimes. And in the first session, they fire on all cylinders and make things happen. So, if you are able to defuse that fire in the first session, then the aggression is not as much. Yes, they will keep coming at you, but you are able to keep things under control. That’s why the first session was going to be critical.

Q: After the defeat, Virat Kohli admitted that the capitulation was due to a “lack of intent”. Was it also due to Indian batsmen’s lack of correct technique or inability to soak in the pressure?

A: They have dealt with pressure situations. Barring Prithvi, and possibly Mayank, all the players have played enough. Virat, Ajinkya (Rahane), Cheteshwar (Pujara) and (Wriddhiman) Saha have been around while Hanuma Vihari, compared to these guys, has played less. So, players have the ability to soak that pressure and they did their best. But sometimes you also need luck to be on your side. And as I said there were not a number of occasions when the batters were getting beaten and continuing to bat without losing wickets. That did not happen. The edges were going straight to fielders and they were carrying. In the first innings, there were a number of edges but the ball didn’t carry to fielders. I remember, at least three times the ball didn’t carry. In the second innings, the wicket had become harder, and there was more pace and bounce in the surface. There wasn’t exaggerated off-the-seam movement. So, when you ask about a lack of correct technique, I’d say if you take a big stride forward you obviously cut down the distance (between bat and ball) and don’t allow the ball to do much – and it helps you keep your hands close to your body and that is the best way to defend on front foot.

Q: There is no all-rounder except Ravindra Jadeja, who was also missing in Adelaide. Do you feel India desperately missed an all-rounder?

A: Also, Ravichandran Ashwin can really bat well. He is capable of getting a good partnership, handy and important runs. When we talk about Ashwin and Jadeja, it boils down to whose bowling on a particular pitch would be more useful and then you pick that bowler. Their batting is an added bonus; both can bat. I’m sure the team management must be looking at their bowling ability and picking and not worrying too much about how many runs they would contribute at No.8. Yes, those runs would be important, but they are primarily picked because of their bowling.

Q: India’s fielding also left a lot to be desired, as players dropped several catches in the second innings, including the crucial one of Tim Paine in the first innings.

A: While growing, I remember, (Ramakant) Achrekar sir had told all of us: catches win matches. It has stayed with all of us. So don’t drop catches. Fielding has to be upped without any doubt.

Q: Our bowlers performed well in Adelaide. Your impressions on their performance.

A: I thought their performance was very good, without any doubt. In the first innings, it was extremely disciplined and focused; and they kept the pressure on. The Australians also, on the other hand, were over defensive in their first innings. But there are occasions when batters should do something different to put the pressure back on the (opposition) bowlers. So, when there’s an opportunity to score runs one should score runs; you can’t let the bowler get away with an average delivery. Otherwise, you become a punching bag. A good delivery needs to be respected.