The Indian Test team which was announced for Australia series is along the expected lines with a couple of surprises. Cheteshwar Pujara deserved to be in the team more than anyone else and I’m glad that he’s finally got a chance. He may not get to feature in the playing XI, but just being in the mix would boost his confidence. He’s more of a traditional batsman who likes to bat correctly and relies on his patience and technical prowess to grind the opposition down. He’s a young guy with a very bright future ahead of him and I wish him all the luck.
The exclusion of Abhimanyu Mithun was a little surprising considering his exploits in the previous tour. He not only bowled well but also batted decently. He may not have set the world on fire, but that’s unfair to expect from a rookie fast bowler in his first series, that too in the sub-continent. His omission left a sour taste in the mouth.
Yuvraj Singh’s exclusion is another talking point. While I think that it is unfortunate that he misses out but it’s only just to have a youngster warming the bench than such a seasoned guy serving drinks. If you can’t accommodate Yuvraj in the playing XI, it’s fair to give someone else a go. Yuvraj Singh is a quality player and would be better off leading the Rest of India team and scoring runs rather than sitting outside in Mohali.
It goes without saying that the Indian team is relying heavily on its batting to get the upper hand. It starts from the two formidable openers in Sehwag and Gautam at the top and then goes right down to MS Dhoni at seven. Sehwag, once again, could prove to be the decisive factor in the fortunes of the series because it’s imperative for India to score big and quickly to allow its weaker bowling attack to take 20 wickets. Dravid is also due for runs and going by the form he’s shown in South Africa during the Champions League, Australia must be wary of him too. Sachin, Laxman and Raina would complete the batting line up which is as strong as any in the world.
Bowling, as usual, would be the chink in our armour. It’s not because of the lack of experience, but for the lack of match fitness of our mainline bowlers. Zaheer, Sreesanth and Bhajji are coming back after an injury and might just take some time to get into the groove. Since it’s a short series of two back to back Test matches, there may not be enough time to regain form and fitness. Ishant is the only bowler who played the entire series in Sri Lanka and started to look good in the later half of the tour.
On the other hand, Australia may not be looking the traditional powerhouses anymore, but still have enough to give India a run for their money on their home turf. They have a healthy mix of youth and experience in the squad and since many of their players have played in the IPL, playing in the Indian conditions is not new to them. And to top it all, they have an astute captain in Ricky Ponting who’d be eager to prove a point, a brilliant player of spin in Clarke, a consistent opener in Katich and a Michael Hussey to hold the lower middle order together. Their bowling is, as expected, pace-heavy with Johnson leading the attack. Hilfenhaus, Bollinger and Watson would be giving him company along with Haurtiz to add the flavor of spin.
The only visible weakness in the Australian team would be their spin department. While they have a quality spinner in Hauritz, the back-up isn’t that promising. They have a young leg spinner in Steven Smith, but I’d be very surprised if he’d pose any threats to the famed Indian batting.
Every series that India plays is to retain the top perch and this would be no different. MSD would be stretched to keep his record intact and will have to think out of the box to make this weaker bowling line-up click on docile Indian pitches.
Ponting, on the other hand, is a seasoned campaigner and would be taking this series as the dry-run to the Ashes in the winter. He knows that a few key players are missing from the squad and a drawn series would be a good result.
Any series which involves the two best teams in the world becomes important automatically. Earlier it wasn’t the case with Australia and India matches because India was no match to the mighty Australians especially in their backyard. But over the years the Indian team has made huge strides and now, it is a clash amongst the equals. It may still take a long time to be considered as important as the Ashes, because of the legacy and history but every India-Australia series is taking us there.
(Aakash Chopra opened for India in 10 Tests, forming a potent all-Delhi combination with Virender Sehwag during India`s tour of Australia in 2003-04. He also made his mark as India`s last exceptional close-in fielder. He has also played over 130 first class matches. He writes columns for leading newspapers and websites. He also penned a book `Beyond the Blues`. Aakash`s Twitter feed is here http://twitter.com/cricketaakash)
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