India v Australia
Series preview by Chetan Narula
The thing about an India versus Australia contest, irrespective of where it is played, is the keen sense of immense magnitude attached to it.
Over the years it has developed into a sharp rivalry that has no deep-rooted geographical attributes. You can understand the Aussies stepping it up against England and South Africa, their historical rivals. Meanwhile, India kept themselves busy with Pakistan and at times Sri Lanka (not considering nonsensical ODI series).
The birth of this high-stakes round can perhaps be stretched as far back as 1998. It was a decade where team India, as poor as they were overseas, did not lose ground at home. Anil Kumble’s rise was the reason of this superiority on spin-friendly pitches. But that was the year Shane Warne came calling and Sachin Tendulkar put his hand up, countering him with an onslaught rarely seen in the annals of this sport. It was the making of a legend in more ways than one.
From there spanned a tale of intense competition with Glenn McGrath wounding the visiting Indians in 1999 and Steve Waugh’s pride raising visions of conquering the 'Final Frontier'. The year was 2001 and it announced the arrival of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh, marshalled by Sourav Ganguly who met Waugh’s fire with venom.
India’s 'Golden Decade' had begun. Thereafter you had 2003-04 when a four-Test series Down Under was drawn, showing that the Aussies could be made to feel vulnerable in their own den. India lost in 2004-05, proving the ‘Final Frontier’ could indeed be conquered.
2007-08 then showed that there was more to this sport than just on-field rivalry, with Monkey-Gate and the Sydney Scandal grabbing more headlines than cricket itself. 2010 was when the domination of Australia finally ended, staging India as firm world number one in Tests. But, seeing how that shaped up, it led to confusing times in the Test hierarchy, until South Africa took hold of the golden mace.
To put things in perspective, let one just say that the Test series against England was a normal day in the office, only invigorated by the adage of 'revenge' owing to the 4-0 loss experienced prior. That the hosts lost that series as well, in turn, lays added onus on this upcoming encounter and not without reason.
Here and now, both India and Australia stand at important crossroads. For the first time, in all probability, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy doesn’t have an anointed favourite. A Test series such as this comprises two underdogs, instead. The balance between the two teams' batting and bowling strengths is sought within, rather than in contrast to that of the opposition.
Let us begin with the visitors, for, on paper at least, they seem to have fewer problems to handle. The departure of both Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey in the span of one home summer leaves them weakened, especially against spin. The batting line-up that’s come visiting these shores is arguably the weakest in the last two decades of Aussie visits, with only Michael Clarke surefooted against spin. Even so, much the same was said about England and look how that panned out.
The determination in the eyes of Alastair Cook and company can be seen in the Aussies as well, for they have been keen to find solutions. David Warner will play the first Test despite question marks about his injured hand.
Shane Watson moves down to number four and that could be a potential masterstroke, the attacking batsman that he is, can pummel any bowling at will. The slow-ball component of their attack in turn will be a cause for concern, with only Nathan Lyon confirmed for the first Test. But it is in their medium pacers that the Aussies find true strength, much more in comparison to the Indian team.
Out of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda, who to play is a troublesome question. Quality cannot be a parameter as all three are yet to make a significant mark in international cricket. Even so, that is the least of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's worries. For, he has to ponder over his side’s all-important combination, whether to go in with four bowlers or five.
At the time of writing, it had already been announced that Harbhajan Singh will be playing his hundredth Test at Chennai. That happens to be a selection more on winged prayer than current form and it also adds further intrigue to the team mix. Bhajji playing points to three spinners, but does that number include Ravindra Jadeja?
Ravichandran Ashwin hasn’t been in the best form and the question staring at Dhoni is whether to go with two slow-left-arm bowlers, the other being Pragyan Ojha, or two off-spinners.
The small matter of too many left-handers in the Aussie batting line-up might help Ashwin play another Test match, while India’s own batting fallibility will resist any urges to deny Ajinkya Rahane his debut at number six. In fact, apart from him, the only indecision about their batting line-up is the toss-up between Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay for the second opener’s slot. The rest more or less select themselves, despite their poor run against England (barring Cheteshwar Pujara of course).
Yet, how many runs this wonted batting line-up can accumulate in four Tests against the Aussies remains to be seen. It will be the single biggest denominator in deciding the fate of this series.
© Cricket World 2013
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