Fitness woes can spoil team balance
In the past, preparation for a long overseas cricket tour would entail some sort of fitness camp, bonding sessions and then boarding the flight. These days, Indian cricketers are supposed to be super fit. They train hard, have good scores on the Yo-Yo scale and are ever ready for the rigours of IPL in killing summer heat.
All this would give an impression Virat Kohli's boys would be in peak shape for the tough Test tour of Australia. There is no doubting the performance of the Indians. Having won the first Test in Adelaide and seized the momentum, they were expected to be in good shape for the second Test.
That is when news broke of how two star players, R.Ashwin and Rohit Sharma, on a comeback Test trail, were ruled out for Perth. It's easy to say that Ashwin, who was the star bowler in the first match win, was over-bowled.
Indian spinners are known to be physically strong. In the good old days of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra and Venkat, the bowlers had to be ready for really long spells. They may have not looked that athletic, but they certainly had supple bodies. The fast bowlers at that time were used more to get rid of the shine from the red cherry.
The spinners then bowled virtually non-stop and when they were given some rest, it was, perhaps to change ends. If that be the logic, for Ashwin, who bowled around 86 overs in the Perth Test, the workload should not have been too much. Those who watched him bowl in the first Test knew he was not 100 per cent fit even in the second innings.
So, when the 13 was to be named for the second Test, both Rohit and Ashwin were left out. Apparently, Rohit injured his back while fielding in the first Test and could not recover for Perth. As it is, with Prithvi Shaw injuring his ankle on the eve of the first Test, problems had begun for India.
Shaw's injury was freakish in nature where he hurt his left ankle while fielding. Surely, a batsman like Rohit, who has been part of the Indian team for so long needs to show better fitness. It's no crude joke when players compete in the Indian Premier League, despite the rigours of T20 cricket, late evening matches and crazy travel schedules, players stay fit.
Indian Test cricket, too, needs the same kind of commitment from the players where they have to be first fully fit so that they can be considered for selection. The case of Ashwin, who is recovering from a left-side abdominal strain, is a bit interesting. He knows, as the stock bowler, he has to shoulder plenty of load in a tough tour Down Under.
There was criticism for Indian skipper Virat Kohli in the Perth Test as he picked four fast bowlers and did not consider Ravindra Jadeja as a replacement for Ashwin. The green tinge of the track is a bit deceptive. Overall, the ground is lush green, almost like the well manicured lawns of Wimbledon. But this green tinge of the pitch is not a fast bowlers' delight.
On Saturday, when the Aussie pacers were firing on all cylinders and then Nathan Lyon showed his wares, the opening pair again came a cropper. Murali Vijay, in particular, needs to get back to the basics away from Tests and Rahul's two runs were poor advertisement for an opener.
With first Test hero Cheteshwar Pujara falling for 24 in Perth, the onus was on Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to hold fort. It was a classic battle between bat and ball, or to be more precise between two batsmen who define class and the hungry bowlers.
Rahane is known for his dour batting and can put his head down and frustrate the bowlers. But for an aggressive batsman like Kohli to eschew the shots and then tackle the bowling was captivating. He was not going to be shackled for long as that is not his style of batting.
He defines authority at the crease and realised the skipper's role was there to be performed once again on Saturday. His half century was a signal of his intent and runs after that were more like telling the Aussie bowlers he was not going to let pressure bother him.
The score looks healthy from where it was at the start of the innings but for India's sake, Rahane and Kohli have to bat much longer. If Pujara showed in the first Test virtues of patience and control, this unbeaten pair is poised for a longer stay.
A word about the Indian bowling. They performed well yet again, though there has been criticism for not wrapping up the tail. Viewed from thousands of miles away, on television, preaching is so easy. In the middle at Perth, where the weather has been changing crazily, the bowlers were backed well by part-time off-break choice Hanuma Vihari. There is still a lot of cricket to be played in this Test and the series but fitness is one area where India cannot be lax.