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Captain, the ship is sinking

FROM bad to worse. That says it all and without any verbiage. First strike on a peach of a surface wasn't enough either. The Aussies now look in danger of suffering their first whitewash (or brownwash if you like) since 1969-70 when Ali Bacher's South Africa hammed Bill Lawry's team 4-0 in the last series which the Springboks played before they were banned from international cricket.

To put it quite simply, the Australians appear to be physically, mentally and emotionally drained and they seem to be just going through the motions. Both teams have played cricket to saturation point over the last few years so that is no excuse. Home advantage isn't enough to explain it away either. Nor is the fact that the Aussies have a weakened bowling attack; that wouldn't account for the way their top batsmen have buckled under.

India are on a roll and it looks very much like Australia will have to leave the shores of the country with their tails between their legs. It has been a stunning reversal of form -- one a team which has won its last nine series, beaten the West Indies, South Africa and England both at home and away, and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home, and the other a bunch who did not have a single Test victory to show in 1997. And the former it is, which is being thrashed.

Do we then put it down to the return of Mohammed Azharuddin? That would not be exactly accurate either for Azharuddin is still the same captain he was, one step behind what happens on the field as evidenced by the way he kept sending in fielders to positions after a batsman had offered a chance in that position. He wasn't anticipating, he was wise after the deed and this is the way he was when he had his first round at the helm.

Australia's one weakness is that has been rescued time and again by the same batsmen. The Waugh brothers have done it on more than one occasion, Mark Taylor has played a couple of heroic knocks and so has Ian Healy. This has gone unnoticed because the team as a whole has been faring well and a winning team is rarely subject to the microscope. Once the drought comes, people start looking for reasons why the water in the well is low. Now this factor is showing.

The Aussies appear to have given up the mental battle after Madras. They have seemingly accepted that winning is beyond them and in that frame of mind, only defeat can ensue. Add to this the fact that the Indian line-up seems to have a new-found confidence -- every tactic seems to be paying off, including that of recalling V.V.S. Laxman -- and you have two teams which are sorely mismatched. Not on paper, but out in the middle. One is trying to get things over with, the other is having a ball.

It is possible that Australia misjudged how the Indian tiger would perform in its own den. India hasn't done too well in either form of the game for a long time; there has been only the occasional victory. Australia's long absence from any meaningful cricket in the area also means that the baggy green brigade have no idea of what to expect. They have only results to go on. And cricket has made fools of far too many people who judge a team on past form (including this writer).

There is one more aspect worthy of note -- India had nothing to lose going into the series, no matter how they played. Had they been beaten, that would have been no surprise because Australia is the top Test playing nation at the moment. The Indians were given no chance and have thus played their natural game. The danger now is that with the series won, the Indians may wake up to what exactly they have achieved and if that sinks in then their attitude may change. If it does, they may give Australia a little more respect and that would probably make the third Test somewhat more of an even contest. But there is only a 10 percent chance of that happening because there is not much time before the teams confront each other in the garden city.

The addition of Damien Fleming may give the Aussies some strength in their attack -- he put up a good showing the last time he was on the subcontinent -- but it is too much to expect one man to bring what is virtually a dead body back to life. All that Taylor can pray for now is a face-saving draw in Bangalore or else a change of weather so that his team can escape the way the West Indies did in Barbados recently. Else, we may all have to sing the ditty which David Gower heard so clearly in 1986...