With the spot fixing, match fixing allegations and of course the god of PCB, Ijaz Butt joining the fun, cricket is facing a crisis, but amidst the chaos there would be a series played between two top teams like India and Australia in India. To be frank, I am never a fan of a series consisting of just two matches, but with such a cramped schedule, it seems to be a reality now. Anyway, let us have an in depth look into the upcoming test series in India.
If any cricket fan thinks about cricket in India, he would think about heat, unhelpful tracks for the seamers and of course the vastly experienced batting line-up of the Indian team having the ability to get big scores on Indian pitches. This series won't likely be any different as all the above motioned factors would definitely come into play at some point in the series.
The first test match would be played at Mohali on 1st of October. Mohali is historically known as the only track in India which would offer the seamers pace and bounce. The first test played at Mohali itself showed ample proof of pace and bounce in the pitch as Walsh and Kenny Benjamin ripped through India's batting line- up by using the bounce on offer to their advantage. It wasn't just that as Walsh even broke the Indian all-rounder Prabakar's nose with what was said to be a brute of a bouncer.
As the years have gone by, the pitch has become flat and batsmen have enjoyed batting on that surface. Yes, occasionally seamers have found some life in the pitch like Dion Nash in 99, when he took a six wicket haul, but the fact is, in recent times the track is a lot more drier and may even assist reverse swing. A few seamers have still found some success like the underrated Tuffey, who in 2003/04 took seven wickets for 110 runs in 43 overs on a very flat deck which can be seen by the fact that rest of the seamers including Zaheer got just one wicket between them! In 2007/08, Australia struggled against Indian seamers like Zaheer and Sharma as they were able to reverse swing the old ball. So, it is crystal clear that a quick bowler should either bowl with the consistency that Tuffey displayed in 03, or should be good at reversing the ball. The pitch offers something for the spinners on fourth and fifth day and one could see it when India played Australia in 08/09 as Mishra was successful at Mohali. One factor I haven't mentioned till now is the fact that there is a forecast for heavy rains, so the conditions maybe damp and the Aussie seamers would be glad to bowl in such conditions.
The second test of the series would be played at Bangalore. The track at Bangalore has also been flat and seamers as well as the spinners may find it difficult to get wickets at Bangalore. Any team would like to win the toss, bat first and make a big score at Bangalore. I see that in recent times it has been so flat at Bangalore that even reverse swing may not work! Both teams don't have good bowling attacks either, so both captains would be just praying that they can win the toss in the second test.
Now, let us look at both the teams in detail
If I look at Australia's batting line-up, it seems formidable on paper as they have got a batting line-up consisting of players like Katich, Ponting, Huss and Clarke. The problem though, is that their only great player, the captain himself Punter isn't in great form. Leaving that double hundred against Pakistan earlier this year, when he was dropped early on in his innings, he has been ordinary. I think it is high time he realises the fact that he is 35 now and can't play like a 25 year old and just like Tendulkar looks at being more of an accumulator of runs. Ponting has also been troubled by the slow tracks in India as he goes hard at the ball and everyone knows that he has been a bunny of Harbie. The other batsman who can look vulnerable is Shane Watson. After tasting success as a opener, Watson struggled in England though in India he won't have to counter too much swing or seam movement. Watson is clearly not an opener in any sense and his tendency to premeditate too much has landed him in trouble against the moving ball.
Among the Aussie batsmen, Katich, Clarke and Hussey play well on slow tracks. Katich won't bring too many people onto the ground, but he is an effective player of spin which can be seen by his success in India in 08/09. Clarke is easily the most attractive batsman against the spinners in the batting line-up, though I feel that on a overall basis Hussey is their best player of spin as he shows very good shot selection which is very important, when it comes to playing on slow tracks of India. Australia would likely prefer Haddin to Paine as the feeling is Haddin is the better batsman of the two, though Paine in England showed that he is no mug with a bat in hand and of course I have always rated Paine as the better keeper.
When it comes to bowling in India or even in the subcontinent, it can be seen that Australia have an inexperienced pace attack as only Johnson and Siddle have played a series in India. The present pace attack of Australia would be on paper led by the enigmatic Johnson. Everyone knows that he can be unpredictable and even his record outside the bouncier pitches of Australia and South Africa is nothing to write home about. As far as the rest of the attack is concerned, Bollinger is a honest trier, though the jury is still out on him as he has only taken wickets against weak batting line-ups like the Kiwis, Pakistan and WI. Bollinger though, has shown that he can get a bit of reverse swing. Doug the Rug has been praised to the skies by cricinfo experts like Manjrekar and Chappell, though I guess a bowler has to prove himself in different conditions and against good batting line-ups. Siddle is another honest trier, but is coming back from an injury and I am not sure whether he would be match fit to bowl in tough conditions in India. Hilfy has a beautiful outswinger, but it is high time that he learns to bring it back into the righthander as well, as batsmen have started to leave most of his deliveries as he only swings it away from a right-handed batsman.
The spin department would be led by Hauritz. He is nothing more than a steady spinner, but seems to have a good temperament. It would be a good learning experience for a young all-rounder like Smith as he would be bowling to some of the finest players of spin and may even get a game if Australia thinks of playing five bowlers.
Australia also have picked a young quick bowler like Peter George. The South Australian is said to be a bowler who bowls like McGrath. Hmm! every tall bowler is nowadays compared to McGrath. Hazlewood is yet another tall guy who has been compared to McGrath, but unfortunately is out of the tour with a stress fracture on his back. In his place, they have named the one test wonder Daren Pattinson's younger brother James Pattinson and Strac as standbys. I haven't seen either of them, though I have seen a few good things being written about the NSW seamer Strac. The left armer is said to be reasonably quick and can swing the ball. Actually, every-time a player from NSW is selected, eyebrows would be raised by others as the feeling is selectors are partial to NSW players. I have even seen comments like Queensland's young and successful seamer Ben Cutting could have been selected. As an outsider, I would just say that if so many players from NSW are picked, they may have to someday recruit club level players or even under 15 players.
I don't think I have to say too much about the experienced batting line-up of India as a lot has been said about Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman or even Ghambir and the keeper batsman Dhoni. All have great records and it would be a challenge for the Aussies to bowl against that line-up in India. If Australia are worried about the form of their captain, India would be worried about the form of Dravid. With age, the wall of Indian cricket seems to be showing a few cracks as leaving a couple of series albeit against ordinary bowling attacks, Dravid's form hasn't been good in recent times. The key to India's success would be again Sehwag as he can score at a rapid pace and can take the game away from the opposition. The little master Tendulkar is still around and has been in great form and there is Laxman, who just loves playing Australia.
India also have a couple of youngsters like Raina and Pujara. We have seen Raina bat in one-day cricket and he showed good temperament even in test cricket in Lanka. I still get the feeling that he may find life difficult on tracks that offers bounce to the seamers, but on Indian tracks should be able to get runs. Pujara has built an reputation of a player, who has a sound technique and can get big scores in domestic cricket. He may not get a chance to bat in this series, but it is good to see selectors rewarding a player for being consistent in domestic cricket. My friend and fellow blogger Soulberry would be surely happy with Pujara being picked!
India is the number one side in test cricket, but the bowling attack doesn't reflect it. Zaheer has easily been the best seamer for India in recent times. His ability to use the old ball well by getting it to reverse and constantly out-think the batsmen by coming around the wicket and changing the angle has helped him to be successful on flat tracks. Age though is catching up with Zaheer and in recent times has been injury prone. Sharma has loads of potential, though seems to be lacking in confidence at present. Sreesanth? he can consistently bowl with an upright seam which even a bowler like Zaheer struggles to do, but less said the better about his antics.
India has always been known as a land of great spinners, but with the retirement of Kumble, the Indian team suddenly don't have a great spinner in their ranks. Harbie has taken over 350 wickets, but nowadays bowls flat and doesn't look for wickets. He was mediocre in Lanka and I feel that I have been kind to him by using words like mediocre. Indian selectors seem to have completely forgotten that a bowler called Karthik exists on this planet and continues to take wickets on flat wickets like at Taunton. India also have other spinners like the left arm spinner Ojha and the leggie Mishra. Ojha can be a steady bowler and can improve with experience. Mishra is talented, but to be frank he tries too many things. Any spinner needs to show patience, but Mishra seems to be a bowler who wants to take a wicket with the every ball he bowls.
I would watch the series not just for it being an battle between top teams, but to keep an eye on Dhoni's captaincy. Dhoni was strangely very negative in Lanka, though it maybe due to him having a weak bowling attack. Finally, it can be said that both teams have strong batting line-ups, though Australia have shown in recent times that they are prone to collapses. I just feel that on Indian tracks, the Indian batting line-up may consistently get big scores which perhaps would help India to win the series by an 1-0 margin.