Originally for Pakpassion.net
After the damp squib the much talked about England-India series turned out to be one can’t be blamed for being a bit tentative about the quality of Cricket that is in store for the fans this summer down under. However given the various vulnerabilities facing both sides off late it’s safe to assume the contest will be off a more even keel, giving India the best chance to register their first ever series away win against an opposition that has over the past decade become a traditional foe.
The key to the whole series really lies in Melbourne and how the Boxing Day Test unfolds. A couple of weeks back it would have been sufficient for India to be content with just a draw. Like Pakistan, the South Asian giants are fashionably slow starters, finding it easier to ease into a tour instead of hitting the ground hard and seeking to wrest the initiative. However, with the early Christmas present left by the Kiwis and the double body blow of having Watson and Cummins sit out, India needs a revision of plans going into Boxing Day.
Given the financial clout and draw of India, coupled with the eminent threat of Zaheer Khan in the opposition ranks one can expect to see the greenly-tinged surfaces, that provided such refreshing and exciting viewing in the last month, to give way to more benign pastures. India of course also benefit from a very suitable itinerary with tracks in Sydney and Adelaide (if history is any guide to go by) to prove much easier to bat on than what weaker boards (such as N.Z) have to contend with when sending their teams into the jaws of the Gabbatoir or Tasmania. Perth is the only surface that ought to ask serious questions of the batsmen and that challenge doesn’t present itself till the visitors have been allowed to settle nicely into the conditions.
This hospitality bordering on leniency while often frustrating for the neutral observer watching the Indian visits down under is not such a bad ploy for the hosts this time round. For, unlike their great predecessors from the 2000’s, the Baggy Greens have proved extremely brittle in their batting over the past couple of years. One only has to recall what transpired last Boxing Day to realize the Aussies would be much better off focusing on preparing tracks garnered towards bounce than seam. Extravagant seam movement off overly grassy surfaces, as S.A found out to their ruin in Durban last Boxing Day, would work much more in favor of the Indian outfit, who lack the over all consistency and penetration in bowling to skittle out formidable batsmen on less responsive surfaces. The one thing common to all Australian collapses of the recent past has also been the haunted seaming tracks; Sydney (Pak), Headingley (Pak), Melbourne (Eng), Capetown (S.A) all had unusual juice and a tinge of green on the surface on the first morning. So an approach steering away from seam and finding an appropriate balance focusing on bounce is the answer for Australia, whose opposition have time and again struggled to cope with surfaces where the ball has risen off a good length.
The Australians have been very fortunate to find some extremely promising young bowlers in a very short span of time and one has to wonder how lethal their attack is shaping up to be in a couple of years time when the likes of Cummins and Pattinson have had ample time to be groomed. In Pattinson they seem to have a polished article already, who not only puts the ball on a good length a la McGrath and Gillespie, but is also deceptively quick. Along with Siddle, Harris and hopefully Cummins for the last two tests he should prove to be the prickliest of thorns in India’s throat.
Nathan Lyon however remains Australia’s biggest unanswered question. If he is able to bowl the same consistent lengths that one has become accustomed to expect from him, and bog down one end it will make the job that much easier for Clarke and the fast bowlers. It is no easy task though, given the formidable Indian batting and their ruthless deftness at tackling spin bowling. Lyon must prepare and be ready for this challenge, for if he lets the Indians get on top early, the four tests might just end up being the longest grind for Clarke’s team since the Ashes last season.
The Indian batsman might have woken up from the nightmare that was the English summer, but they, more than anybody else, know the matter is not put to bed after just piling runs from the confines of their back yard. They must take comfort from the relatively inexperienced bowling line-up that awaits them Down Under and target an aggressive approach from the get go. Getting on top of Lyon and the young Pattinson, and playing patiently through the early testing conditions without giving the Aussies a sniff will prove the best strategy for Dhoni’s men. Sehwag and Gambhir (especially the latter) need to step up their game. Most of the memorable Indian victories can be primarily attributed to the strong platform the openers have been able to provide the team prior to the English debacle. Rohit Sharma given his immense talent and rich vein of form must also be given the opportunity from the beginning for it may well end up that the newest star in the lndian line-up outshines all the others.
Dhoni’s Captaincy will be key and constantly under the scanner, for critics might not be as generous as they were last time around if his lack luster approach from England continues. His style of captaincy of letting the bowlers do their job and unwilling to change things up in the field when things aren’t going the team’s way, are the major reasons for the margins of defeat witnessed last summer. Mr. Cool has to take on a more hands on approach when his team is out in the field. While the laid back mentality works wonders in conditions well known to his bowling attack, it has often come back to bite the Indians in foreign environments.
The Real Battle:
The actual battle however will throughout remain the Indian bowling against the Australian batsmen. If, and that is a big IF, Zaheer and Ishant are able to cope for the entire leg of the tour, India will fancy this battle. Ishant who earned most of his repute from his skirmishes with Ponting last time round, will be up against his familiar foe once again. With Watson missing, Ponting being in the miserable form that he is in and the Indian pair looking good for the first test at least, the battle becomes a challenging prospect for the hosts. The trial however shouldn’t be any more stressful than the ones Clarke and his men have had to deal with recently, which should give the Australians belief in tackling it amicably. Yadav the third seamer although nippy, has the tendency to spray the ball around quite a bit and one wouldn’t be surprised if India took the two spinner’s route on the flatter tracks on the tour. So it really comes down to the spinners, especially Ashwin and how effective he proves be in Australian conditions. The Indian fans should look no further than the performance of the Tamilian off-spinner when they sit down to dissect this tour in a month and a half’s time for his effectiveness (or lack off) will be the deciding factor in this major battle.
Mel: Too close to call
Syd: India favorites
Perth: Australia favorites
Adelaide: Draw or whoever has the momentum
2-1 to the side who wins at Melbourne, 1-1 if that is a draw.
The MCG might only be the opener, but the way the series is set up, the 75000 expected to witness the jewel of the Australian Cricket summer can expect something really special. It would also undoubtedly go a long way in deciding the fate awaiting the Indians Down Under. In either case, it should be a cracker!
Originally for Pakpassion.net