Monday, December 12, 2011

India in Australia - First Thoughts

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Australia has just lost a test to New Zealand by 7 runs. When a team loses by that kind of margin, it hurts not just it's pride but it's morale. Losing by a whisker often saps the spirit of teams. After Australia pulled out a tight victory against South Africa earlier this season, one would have thought that they would win this time too. Looks like Clarke and company have not quite begun the journey back up.

On the other hand, coach Wright seems to be doing the same wonders to the New Zealand side that he did with the Indian side a decade ago. Ross Taylor may not be Ganguly, but he sure is leading well. His players seem committed and he too, like Ganguly, seems to be finding his Bracewells and Brownlies. Ganguly found Harbhajan and Laxman and never looked back. New Zealand have always been the team of honest triers, but with Wright at the post and Taylor to lead, they may scale some heights here.

Which brings us to India. They have just finished up a series against West Indies. The results speak of a one sided series, but the details show that India didn't quite destroy the Carribeans. India's aging middle order was put to the test and they only got passing grades.

Australia is grooming a pace attack that has some teeth, including the bane of Indian batsmen, swing and bounce. The test matches are going to be played at MCG, SCG, WACA and Adelaide. Barring Adelaide, that favors India's style of batting, India have some work on their hands. Pattinson and Siddle have the potential to bother India. With Cummins, Johnson and Harris gone, India's work is theoretically easier. Watson may be back for the Boxing day test to restore much needed balance to the Australian team. He will give a big boost. He could very well become the key for Australia.

Australia's batting too has an aged look to it. Ponting and Hussey seem to have slowed down. With Marsh back in the side, Australia may find some missing steel. Watson, Warner and Marsh at the top with Ponting, Clarke and Hussey to follow is a difficult sight for Indian bowlers. Zaheer and Ishant have to fire. If Zaheer manages to stay fit, India might be able to pull out some victories. Ishant has been ok without being menacing. But in Australia he could turn dangerous if his previous series is an indicator. Umesh Yadav will probably get carried away by the bounce and swing on offer and will need to really use the practice games well to fine tune himself. At his pace, he can be a handful. But in Australia pace and bounce helps batsmen too.

And this is where, India's best bet is. Gambhir and Sehwag. Both can exploit the bounce and can play very well on the up. If Gambhir keeps his cool and deals with the bouncers smartly, India's openers can win games by themselves. Sehwag's audacious ODI double century must put fear into Clarke's side. Hopefully, he will carry the form to Australia and put Aussie bowlers on the defense. MCG is where the first test is being played. We remember the 194 he smacked there in 2003. If he decides to begin the series similarly, India's chances receive a huge boost.

There is no doubt, this is India's best chance to win a series in years. Irfan Pathan would have added to the team's options instead of Mithun or Vinay Kumar. His banana swing is back and he seems enthusiastic as ever. Virat Kohli may play his first full series. This should be his coming of age series. For the first time, Tendulkar's batting may not be a huge factor for India. On the other hand, this is also his big chance to put his stamp of authority on Australia in Australia.

A juicy contest awaits and I can hardly wait for the series to start.

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