India walked away with an impressive 2-0 win over the Windies in the recently concluded Test series. It really could, and should have been 3-0, considering the stupendous bowling performance by the spin duo (Ashwin and Ojha) in the 2nd innings of the 3rd test. India had a very gettable target of 243 runs in 64 overs. Looking at India’s batting line-up and the fact that the game was in its own backyard, the odds were heavily stacked against the Windies. However, the steadily improving performance of the Windies led to Bravo’s men putting on their best show in the final innings of the final test.
Let’s be crystal clear about the fact that the upcoming series in Australia is going to be a whole different ball game. It does not matter that the Aussies are missing Warne and McGrath in their line-up. The Australians are thoroughbred sportsmen vigorously and professionally trained to give the opposition a run for its money. No team, world-beater or not, can let its guard down against the Aussies - the supreme South Africans would agree, going by the recently concluded series, in South Africa !
The next matter of concern for the 2nd ranked Team India is that it has just concluded a 'home-series' against a young and inexperienced team ranked 7th, whereas the 4th ranked Aussies leveled an 'away-series' against the better ranked (3rd) South Africans. India might be on a high after dominating most of the 3-match test series but the Aussies will be feeling much more confident after having leveled the series against South Africa, in South Africa. The Aussies will be looking to capitalize on the home advantage, come December, and will literally be itching to get on the field against the Indians.
Having said that, Team India has always considered Australia as the toughest opponents, who bring out the best in them (India). Even statistics show multiple players averaging better ‘against Australia’ than ‘overall.’ I thought the Sydney and Perth Tests in 2008 inculcated an immense sense of self-belief and maturity in the team, with Kumble’s dignified manner of handling proceedings and with the players letting their skill do the talking. Although India lost the series, a billion people remember it for how the team defied all odds and won the Perth test, followed by Harbhajan Singh running onto the ground with the tri-colour in hand.
Speaking of which, not picking Harbhajan Singh for the Australia series is a bit of a gamble. It is evident that the man is going through a form slump and has not performed in the domestic circuit either, however, he is more than a cricketer. He is a character that gets under the skin of the Australians and impacts their mental make-up and on-field performance. One cannot deny that he has also mastered bowling in the faster Australian pitches. He could have really been a valuable mentor to both Ashwin and Ojha, who are 3 and 14 tests old respectively. It will be an uphill task for the young spin duo, but their results show that they are more than up for the challenge.
Varun Aaron is another man to watch, considering his focus on bowling quick and his impressive show in the recent tests, given the flat pitches that he bowled on.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will be looking to fire on all cylinders. Kohli has had a good start with two fifties under his belt in the final test and Sharma will want to prove Ian Chappell right, who famously quoted “This guy is ready for Test cricket” on air in 2008.
Sachin’s elusive 100th ton is bound to happen against the opposition that brings out the best in him. Achieving the milestone against the Australians in Australia will only make it all the more special for SRT and his billion-plus followers – enough said !
Tendulkar and Dhoni are wisely being rested for the ODI series against the Windies. This is a great opportunity for the two to put their mature heads together and formulate strategies to tackle the Aussies. It will not be a one-sided affair like the series against the Windies. Both teams will do whatever it takes to emerge victors – India, to justify its no. 2 position in tests and Australia, to justify that it is still a dominant force.
Sparks are bound to fly during this scintillating series that begins on Boxing Day. Let’s hope that the games are played in the right spirit and the series results in cricket triumphing over everything else.