Sunday, December 25, 2011

India's chances down under Part 2

In the second part of the article as promised, I would look at few other key factors that can play a major role in India winning the series down under.

India's much vaunted batting line-up

In the last decade or so, India's success away from home at places like Headingley, Trent Bridge, WACA, Adelaide has been due to its fantastic batting line-up finally fulfilling the promise it showed over the years. The big scores that India have been able to get away from home in the last decade has in turn helped their slightly weaker bowling attack to take 20 wickets.

Recently in England though, the ageing batting line-up came unstuck against a brilliant pace attack operating in home conditions. Was it just an aberration or was it a warning signal that the ageing batting line-up just doesn't have it in them anymore to do well away from home? In my humble opinion, the Indian batsmen failed as they didn't play enough warm up games to acclimatise to the alien conditions.

Even arguably the greatest batsman of his generation SRT, needs to play warm up games to succeed in England, as the pitches in England offer seam/swing bowlers more assistance than what is found in most other cricket playing countries. I see that India have learnt their lesson the hard way, as they have played few warm up games in Australia. It can also be said that Indian batsmen will enjoy the Australian conditions more as there won't be too much movement on offer for the bowlers.

The key to India's success in Australia will be Sehwag, as if he gets going on couple of batting friendly tracks, the inexperienced Australian attack may just panic. Pattinson may have looked great against the Kiwis, but up against a quality batting line-up, he may have to work a bit harder as Indian batsmen won't likely edge every outswinger he bowls. Another bowler who will be tested is Lyon. The Kiwis rarely used their feet against him, but the likes of S'wag, VVS and SRT will certainly look to take on the young spinner.

Of course, when we talk about the Indian batting line-up, one has to always think of  the grand old man of world cricket SRT, who even at the ripe age of 38 looks like he  has it in him to get more hundreds. The weight of getting his 100th international hundred seems to have affected even the great man  yet, I expect him to do well in Australia.

Yes, Australia will look at finding chinks in master's armour which to be honest is very difficult to find as SRT has a watertight technique. SRT though, has to be a bit cautious against the full swinging delivery bowled on a off-stump line. Since the canny Fannie De Villiers found at least a way to dismiss SRT, it has always been an option against the master blaster, as he tends to play the straight drive without moving his feet early in his innings. Even the disgraced Saffer captain Cronje found success with that plan. In recent times, Anderson has repeatedly got him out by bowling full on a off-stump line. Having said that SRT's balance is so good that once he gets going, he rarely will miss playing a straight drive against the full swinging delivery.

A classic example of SRT looking to drive without moving his feet and being bowled by a superb delivery from the swing king Damien Fleming.

Now, how can I leave out Very Very Special Laxman as here is a batsman, who seems to do well every-time he plays Ozzies. In-fact, I am sure Clarke, Punter and co. must be calling him as Very Very Sick Laxman. The reason for his success in Australia basically stems from the fact that he is very strong on the back-foot. I reckon on the back-foot, he is slightly better than even SRT.

Finally, after discussing about VVS, Sehwag, SRT, I can't leave out the great wall of India, Dravid. A few years ago, Dravid looked completely out of sorts, but everyone knows that he is a gutsy batsman  and this year, he has returned with a bang by getting about zillion runs in England. In tough conditions in England, it seemed like a contest between Dravid and England, rather than India and England.

As far as playing in Australia is concerned, Dravid did struggle in his first series against the metronomic McGrath, but since then, he has made his mark down under by showing his class especially, at Adelaide in 03/04, when he played a match winning knock to take India to a historic test victory.

From the above points, it is clear that for India to succeed in Australia, they need their strong batting line-up to again come to the party which in turn can give the slightly weaker bowling attack a chance to take 20 wickets.

How to tackle the Australian batsmen?

In the past, it would have been a herculean task for the opposition to  come up with strategies against the Australian batsmen, as they had world class players.The present line-up though, looks vulnerable and prone to collapses. Yes, they still have the likes of Clarke, Punter and Huss, but someone like Punter looks a pale shadow of the player he was. In my opinion, Punter always had a couple of flaws, but his brilliant strokeplay and his mental toughness helped him to cover it up. With him being 37 now, those flaws are getting exposed.

I see the Indian think-tank employing the same tactic that others have employed against Punter, which is to bowl full early in his innings and get him out lbw with Punter falling across his off-stump. Once he gets set though, bowlers should look to bowl back of a length on a off-stump channel as Punter these days struggles to score runs bowled on a off-stump channel. Even Ashwin can come into play with his carom ball as Punter does push hard at the ball.

Among the senior batsmen, Clarke has been in better form, but he is another player, who can struggle against consistent back of a length bowling with the odd full delivery to tempt him to drive. England used that tactic well in the Ashes.

Clarke has a reputation of playing spin very well, but I am not fully convinced. Last year in the Ashes, when Clarke tried to come down the wicket there was too much premeditation involved. In-fact,  Swann constantly troubled him by going around the wicket and cutting off his run scoring areas through the on-side. It is something that Ashwin can have a look at.

Australia also have a very inexperienced top-order with Cowan making his debut and their wicket-keeper batsman Haddin just doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes, as he keeps chasing everything that is just outside the off-stump. Basically, the present set of Australian batsmen just don't seem to have the toughness that was associated with past Australian sides. Every-time I see Australian batsmen play, they seem to be chasing deliveries outside the off-stump and getting out. It is again a clue to the Indian seamers like Sharma that they should pitch it up!

Series prediction

This is one of the toughest series to predict, as we are thinking of two flawed equally matched sides. On occasions, I have thought maybe Australia are slight favourites. Just before the series though, I am leaning more towards India, as I have a gut feeling that India may have a slight edge provided, their batsmen click and they get a bit of luck with the toss at places like MCG and WACA. Yes, cricket fans can argue that famed Indian batting line-up came a cropper in English conditions, but England have a very good pace attack and Australia don't. It can also be argued that playing in Australia should be easier for subcontinental batsmen as it won't swing/seam around that much in Australia.

I predict a 2-1 result in favour of India, though 1-1 will always be a safe bet, as we are thinking about two evenly matched sides.

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