India conceded 366 runs for just one wicket on Day Two of the second Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Wednesday. It was captain MS Dhoni's perplexing, and ever-changing field placements that allowed Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke to dictate terms.
Last week, Dhoni drew positives from his bowling-attack that ably bowled Australia out twice at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). But, those positives did not rise above to belief when Australia began the day still trailing by 75 runs, and with a middle-order that has earned a notorious reputation of one that disintegrates in the blink of an eye -- as demonstrated at Cape Town and Hobart.
Dhoni was justifiably restless as the dream of a maiden Test-series win in Australia faded swiftly. But, his eccentric approach, at times his greatest strength, was his deterrent. He never allowed a bowler to settle into a rhythm or a line of attack. The pointless experimentation was painful to follow.
Dhoni's intuitive calls have done wonders in limited-overs cricket. India won the 50-over World Cup under his captaincy less than 12 months ago. But, he has disregarded age-old norms of the sport's purest version, such as giving a new-ball bowler catching positions, or bowling an off-spinner without a mid-wicket.
Here's the drift, or the lack of it. Zaheer Khan began proceedings with two balls down the pads, conceded a single followed by three easy runs. He immediately switched to an around-the-wicket -- a trend that continued for most of the day.
Soon after the drinks break in the morning session, Umesh Yadav injected some life into the Test with a little away movement. There were some loose shots from Clarke; Ponting almost chopped one on off Ishant Sharma. Suddenly, Dhoni tore down the slip cordon. He had a deep square leg, a short mid-wicket, and two men behind square leg. It was only the tip of the iceberg.
Twelve overs into the first session, R Ashwin was introduced, bowling with a deep square leg. Three overs later, Yadav bowled with two fielders close to mid-wicket. In his next over, Yadav bowled to a seven-two field, with no slip cordon. It got more bizarre. Australia picked off 37 runs between overs 37 and 43. This was still in the first session. Few overs later, Ashwin bowled without a mid-wicket, but got a deep point, and a stranger leg slip. For Ponting and Clarke, Christmas had not ended.
Zaheer finally returned to an over-the-wicket line, immediately took Ponting's leading edge, but the ball flew to the third man fence. Guess what? He returned to around-the-wicket in the next over. "What are Zaheer and Dhoni trying to achieve here? I don't think they have a plan," a furious Bill Lawry said in a passing remark. Australia's lead was just 59, but Dhoni had surrendered.
Virat Kohli bowled seven overs on the trot before Virender Sehwag replaced him for another five. Later, there was the angst. Zaheer muttered a word to Michael Hussey even after the big screen justified the umpire's decision to turn down a caught-behind appeal. Virat Kohli flipped the middle finger to a few fans down the boundary rope. Batting on 182, Clarke presented Ishant a return catch. It was spilled. The Indian team is deflated, frustrated and appearing ordinary.
Dhoni's overseas Test record as captain
Match: 17, Won: 5, Lost: 7, Drawn: 5
Ashwin defends captain Dhoni
"What else do you do with 190 in the pocket?" Ashwin asked reporters when asked about India's defensive ploy. "You'll have to save every run possible. Supposing you get two or three wickets later on, and someone is having a good spell, we have those runs to play with later. That has got to be the only idea. It's common sense. Nothing else," he added.
For India, being reminded of another potential whitewash was 'the biggest detriment'. "We lost 4-0 on an overseas tour (England) before this. For all you know, people telling it's going to be another 4-0, another 2-0.
For us, to just hear that repetitively, that itself is the biggest detriment. So I don't know (how we will come out of this situation). It has to come from someone. Maybe it will come from everyone in the next innings. Probably 1 to 11 will get a fifty (in the second innings)," he said.
When asked if a motivational speech was needed to lift the side, Ashwin snapped: "It's all fine when you sit together and give all those speeches. Those speeches are very good to watch on TV. It has to come from within. You have to deliver out there. Someone will have to stand up and ask themselves to be counted."