India took a 1-0 lead in their four match series against Australia earlier this week, winning the first Test in Chennai by eight wickets. It wasn’t a comprehensive win for India though and there are still things that both sides need to address.
For Australia, the obvious problem was spin bowling. It looked like a concern when they announced their squad and so it proved. The pitch was a very dry, turning surface but Nathan Lyon ended up with just 4-244 in the match and 3-215 in the first innings. On a surface where even Ravichandran Ashwin took 7-103 in the first innings, it was nowhere near good enough. The usual response is that Indian batsmen play spin well and that even Warne struggled in India, but a cursory glance at the figures for England’s spinners just a few months ago shows that such objections are rather outdated. This is where Australia must improve for the second Test, but the problem is that Lyon actually is their best spinner. Even if they want to play a second spinner in Hyderabad that spinner would appear to be Xavier Doherty, a man best known for having a Test bowling average over one hundred. (His exact figures are 3-306, for which he can largely thank Kevin Pietersen.) The only other options are Steve Smith and a pair of uncapped all-rounders who bowl spin. None of them would appear to be improvements, however. This is going to be an ongoing problem for Australia and unless they get more seam friendly wickets they are going to need Lyon to step up in the next three Tests.
India would be well advised not to think that a return to winning ways means that all their problems are solved, however. It was certainly a decent win and one in which they did a lot right. But they were helped by Australia playing poorly and there are issues at which to look. The obvious one is that their openers combined for just 37 runs in the entire match. Gautam Gambhir was dropped before the series started, but his replacement did not do any better and the man (well one of them) who should have been dropped, Virender Sehwag, had another poor Test. The middle order, and in particular MS Dhoni, utterly saved them. Four hundred and twelve of their 572 runs in the first innings were scored by three players and whilst that is far from a disaster it must be a bit disconcerting given that only Virat Kohli is really a long term option. Sachin Tendulkar’s days are numbered and not numbered very high whilst MS Dhoni can not be relied upon to consistently rescue his side. As long as Australia continue to struggle with the bowling this probably won’t be a huge problem for India, but they will be a lot happier if more of their batsmen contribute.
But as obvious as the imbalance in the results produced by their batting order is, their bowling is probably a bigger concern. The pitch in Chennai was a turner and after the result produced there it’s fair to expect the next three to be similar. But the Indian seamers did not take a single wicket in the match and Australia did put up 380 in the first innings. India are relying on the pitches actually turning as much as they want and on Australia not improving enough with the bat to negate this. Both are risky assumptions and the Indian spinners have not shown a lot of menace on pitches that have not been tailored to give them extra help. It would not take much to go wrong for India to find themselves looking at a big total.
There isn’t a lot of time for either side to do much ahead of the second Test. I expect that India will use the result as an excuse to go in unchanged, but Australia surely have to make at least one change and give themselves at least more spin options. It would not surprise me if they made two or three changes, perhaps bringing in both Smith and Doherty plus the usual rotation of a fast bowler.