Can India And Australia Conjure Up More Cricket Magic?
India-Australia Test series are special. Always dramatic, sometimes controversial and never short of moments that live long in the memory. By John Pennington
From VVS Laxman's epic 281 that won a Test for India after they had followed on to Harbhajan Singh's hat-trick and Michael Clarke's debut in 2004, these two sides are never shy of conjuring up cricket magic. It is a series that even the casual cricket observer will be aware of, and keeping an eye on.
What then, can we expect over the next four weeks or so? An India side keen to put behind them an unexpected 2-1 reverse at home to England is up against a new-look Australia side whose next engagement will be against the very same opposition.
Ashes thoughts will be firmly at the back of the players' minds for now, however, as they work out how to extend Sachin Tendulkar's lean run of form, heap more pressure on Mahendra Singh Dhoni and try to expose a perceived lack of depth among India's bowlers.
Without Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, this is one of the weakest batting line-ups that has travelled to India in many a year. From the days where Darren Lehmann and Adam Gilchrist launched counter-attacks from the crucial number six-seven axis, Australia place their faith in uncapped Moises Henriques and oft-criticised gloveman Matthew Wade. India will have already identified this as a potential weak spot worth probing.
Since the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia's pace bowlers have been leading their attack and it will be no different here. Production of fast bowlers is an area in which they excel and how India yearn to have the same sort of fast bowling stocks, considering that Jackson Bird, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Johnson and Patrick Cummins, to name but four, will be absent from the opening Test for differing reasons.
India, on the other hand, have never been short of class batting options. Now, perhaps more than ever before, they need the new guard - Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane - to start grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and score the runs that they watched their idols Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Laxman score when they were growing up and learning their trade.
Ah, Tendulkar. Each passing series will be hyped up as his one that could be his last. The stats don't lie. He is averaging 31 since his last Test century 18 months ago. His retirement from ODI cricket offers him no more excuses. He would dearly love, I'm sure, to go out on the back of a match-winning century, or even as part of a series-winning team, whether that is in this series or one further down the line.
We would all love to go out with the style and grace of Lisa Sthalekar - taking a superb catch to win a decisive match - but all too often, as Ponting and Hussey will attest to, sport does not oblige.
Tendulkar decided to go on when he could have walked away following India's glorious World Cup win in 2011 - which is beginning to feel an awful long time ago now, by the way - and as he felt he was in good form, and the body was holding up well, you cannot blame him for doing so.
There is a danger that this series could become overwhelmed by a protracted will-he-won't-he retirement saga, and everybody with half an eye on the game offering their own view, no matter how well informed or otherwise they are. We must therefore hope for two things. Firstly, that Tendulkar either scores some runs or makes a decision on his future quickly, and secondly, that the contest is so gripping that there is litle space or time to devote to anything else.
That would make it some series, even by the lofty standards of what these two sides have produced before. For what it's worth, I see two sides who will be engaged in a series of prolonged arm-wrestles, neither team quite strong enough to dominate for long periods as they have in the past. A drawn series for me then, but one that will still keep us glued to the action throughout.
Do you agree? Leave us a comment below.
More on India-Australia: Chetan Narula's series preview - Series preview podcasts as John and Chetan look ahead - Preview Video
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