Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ashwin, Yadav Key to India's Fortunes

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Australia has put their cards on the table. They are struggling to string together a team that can be called their first eleven. Retaining Ponting and Hussey was a no-brainer given the underwhelming performance of Ponting's putative replacement, Usman Khawaja. Marcus North and Steve Smith's quick fizzle means that Hussey gets some more chances to get it right.

Ed Cowan and David Warner at the top of the order may seem a juicy proposition to Zaheer. However, our feeling is that this is just what the doctor ordered for Australia. These two might be the long term answer for Australia. Ed Cowan's style (I have not watched him) based on what's described seems to be sedate. Almost creeping up on you without making waves. Warner, clearly relishes the visibility, much like Sehwag and Hayden. A couple of tests against India will be a good way to kick-off a long term partnership at the top for Australia.

The big story though is that of the bowlers coming back into focus. Cricinfo ran an insightful article highlighting the leveling of the playing field. Young bowlers - both fast and spin - are beginning to make impacts on test matches. While the era of Marshall, McGrath, Donald, Waqar, Wasim, Ambrose is not back, signs are that we might be seeing the end of multiple 50+ batting averages. Australia has a bunch of young bowlers that seem to be ready for the big test against India's vaunted batting line-up. Lyon will play a containment role at best, except in Sydney where he may do more. Clarke too is a decent bowler, who I believe underbowls himself. Despite the cloud over the Sydney test in 2008, we remember that it was Clarke that sent India to doom. It's likely that Siddle, Pattinson and Starc will make up the seam attack with Lyon being the sole spinner.

Australia's biggest challenge is going to be it's ability to gel as a team. This combination of players has not played together and coming together for the first time against one of the top teams is probably not a perfect place to be. Having said that, India need to drive home the advantage by being aggressive and hostile in terms of their fast bowling. They should immediately seek to put pressure on the Australians whether bowling or batting first. Austalia's top three are relatively inexperienced and India should seek to take advantage of that.

Umesh Yadav needs to be given the full license to be hostile and quick. This is one quality of Sreesanth that made him a great test match bowler at times. Umesh, would do well to learn the patterns of the great bowlers of the nineties. Ambrose, Akram, Younis, Donald and others were capable of producing bursts of hostility that no batsman could counter. If Umesh has that capability of stepping on the gas in key moments of a test match, India would have found a winner. On the other hand, it's hard to do that if he's playing as the third seamer. So getting the combination right is going to be important for India.

India's achilles heel is obviously the fitness of it's opening bowlers. Enough has been written about Ishant's ankle and Zaheer's readiness. Our worry is that Ishant may bowl conservatively due to his ankle. Neither Mithun nor Vinay Kumar are adequate replacements. And this gives me the chance to lament once more about Irfan being left out.

Should Zaheer and Ishant not pull their weight in the team, it'll be upto Umesh and Ashwin to do the heavy lifting. This could lead to Umesh being overworked and a candidate for future breakdown. Ashwin has quickly become the hope for India. He's intelligent, smooth and incisive. He's got all the tricks and he's in form. Hopefully, he'll be used right by Dhoni and play a key role in India's success down under.

But then, it all comes down to India's batting. The formula has been to post big first innings runs. Lately, this has suffered somewhat with Tendulkar not being able score the huge runs he normally did. We have found someone that can consistenly play rearguards in Laxman. Kohli too is picking up this mantle. Kohli to me is doing everything that I had imagined Mohammed Kaif would do when he was the hottest item in Indian cricket. India's fortunes once again will depend on Sehwag and Gambhir demoralizing Australia's young attack.

If India get it right in the first test, then this series will be India's to lose. Zaheer or Sehwag need to set the tone in the first innings of the first test for India to win it's first series down under.

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