India start their mammoth Australia tour with the 1st Test on Boxing Day. This series has received considerable hype owing to a variety of reasons. The Indian squad is as follows:
Bowlers: Yadav, Ishant, Vinay Kumar, Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Mithun, Ojha
Batsmen: Dhoni, Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kohli, Sharma, Rahane
Zaheer Khan’s fitness has a question mark over it but in the current tour match against CAC XI he bowled 10 overs and conceded 41 runs. According to reports Zaheer was not at his best and it seems he might not be an automatic choice in the playing XI. Whether Zaheer can secure a place due to his recent years’ performance remains to be seen. Zaheer last played in Australia in 2007 and in Australia he has played 3 Tests and taken 10 wickets so arguably he has wicket taking potential on Australian pitches.
As far as Test cricket is concerned this presents an opportunity for the likes of Yadav, Mithun and V Kumar. If they can take regular wickets they might become India’s first choice pacers and Zaheer Khan may have to say goodbye to Test cricket. Zaheer is 33 now and age is not on his side; if bettered by the young pacers it is likely we might not see Zaheer playing for India again. For Zaheer’s sake he will be remembered as ending his career on a very enviable high and his bowling contributed a great deal in India’s WC victory earlier this year.
Another reason why this series is crucial is because of SRT’s form and the sword of the 100thcentury dangling over his head. Tendulkar averages about 60 in Australia and this must be one of the highest averages for any international batsman in Australia. However, this year his average has been 47 and he has looked uncomfortable when batting. The million dollar question is whether SRT will be able to make that elusive century or not? This issue was blown out of proportion by the Indian media, so much so that there are been a noticeable restraint now in discussing this very
elusive century for fear of further pressurising SRT.
Finally this series is also crucial from the Indian perspective because of the current Test rankings and present form of the top 4 teams. This year Australia played 3 Test series- against Sri Lanka they won 1-0, against New Zealand and South Africa they drew 1-1. Australia are definitely not the force they were when McGrath and Warne were playing but they have still had a respectable 2011 compared to 2010. This year India beat West Indies 2-0 and 1-0, drew with South Africa 1-1 and lost to England 4-0. Form wise one might say that Australia has the slight edge, even though they suffered a totally unexpected collapse against New Zealand a few weeks ago. India took a drubbing in England and this will definitely be at the back of their heads when they are preparing for the Boxing Day Test.
Sehwag have Gambhir have not been at their best in Tests in 2011 and Tendulkar and Laxman have also been unable to deliver. This is the reason why India lost badly against England. Indian batsmen perform well on Australian pitches so this gives an opportunity for them to regain form. Australia is currently ranked no 4 in Tests and India, no 2. There is a difference of 15 points between the two teams so the chances of Australia overtaking India are slim and can probably only occasion if Australia whitewash India.
As for Australia, their batting and bowling both have lacked consistency this year and this might work in favour of India. Australia have their own fitness problems to worry about because Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson are not fully fit. Neither are Mitchell Johnson or Doug Bollinger available. Siddle and the impressive newcomer Pattinson will probably lead the bowling attack and they might spring a surprise for Australia. It seems there is a chance Australia might be unable to play their best XI whereas India will most definitely play their best XI. How much of an impact will this cause?
It looks like it is difficult picking a favourite. Australia have to their advantage that they are usually mentally strong at home, notwithstanding the domination of Indian batsmen on their pitches. Their young pacers can also surprise India because they are untested. This will work in India’s favour too when they try Yadav and Mithin against Australia. Both teams have drawn Test series with the South Africans this year, both teams have defeated weaker teams (SL and WI) but, whereas India got slaughtered in England, Australia also collapsed against a considerably weaker Test side, New Zealand.
From Australia’s perspective a good series will promote them to no 3 (a whitewash may propel them to no 2) in the rankings and from India’s perspective, a whitewash will take them to no 1. But more importantly, a good showing from the Indians will bury the demons of the England series earlier this year and may persuade the passionate Indian fans that the England mauling was a once-in-an-era event for a spirited team that may well have a dominating future with hopefuls such as Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Yadav and Mithun.