Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Build up for the Aussie Bash....

It’s time to build up another important series in Indian Cricket Calendar. Before I proceed, I would like to put a Disclaimer: I’m not very good at building up series. The last time I built up India’s Tour of England, India’s Tour of Australia, England’s Tour of India – we all know how these series panned out. So please proceed with caution.

Jokes apart, this is probably the series India will perform better than the earlier said affairs. In the sense, we acknowledged that our failures in the recent past were not aberrations, we accepted that we are not the No.1 side any more, we are working on phasing out the ageing seniors/stalwarts, trying to locate new set of resources to take up the challenges, importantly addressing the political dissents in the side (I’m not commenting if it is handled the correct way). Again, I may be critical about the pace at which the transition process is handled, strategies adopted, choice of resources etc. but the point is - things are beginning to happen. Like, Pujara is settling down well in place of Dravid at No.3, Kohli is blowing hot and cold to replace Laxman at No.5, B Kumar should be a good alternate to Zaheer Khan, while any of Vijay/Rahane/Dhawan is a better choice than Gambir to open the innings. Between, we have also unearthed an Ashwin who lends solidity lower down the order and is more than handy option as a 5th bowler. Between, we should start seeing results sooner.

For starters, we can make certain safe assumptions. There is no way Australia is going to win the First Test match. In all likelihood, India is all set to start 1-0 up at Hyderabad. Then, it is all about carrying that winning momentum to the reminder of the series or flounder the advantage at some stage like against England.

I would like to build up this series based on the popular phrase, “Batsmen save Test matches, Bowlers win them”.  

From India
We already knew that Pujara is THE player in our ranks realistically capable of batting sessions. He proved it against England. I’ve no doubt he will live up to the reputation against Australia too. The issue is - who else is going to step up? It is my personal judgment that Ajinkya Rahane has the caliber to bat sessions. The question is - will he get the opportunity to play? The next hope is Virat Kohli. Quality is not his issue, Quantity is!!! Having played Tests against Australia, New Zealand and England with lots of lows than high, I guess his time has arrived to make some serious runs. And then there are Sehwags, Tendulkars, Dhonis, Ashwins. I’m sure they will all provide meaningful performance over the course of the series to support the trio mentioned above. Having said that, I do feel India has little too many stroke players (Sehwag, Vijay, Kohli, Dhoni, Jadeja) in the squad that creates Goosebumps. However, with respect to the question (Do we have batsman to save Test Matches?), YES is my answer. By the way, I expect India to play, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Ashwin in all matches.

As much as we desire for a settled batting line up, it is important a settled bowling unit is fielded throughout the series. In other words, India should take this opportunity to settle on their bowling resources (Similar to the way, India settled to B Kumar, Ishanth Sharma, Shami Ahmed, Ashwin and Jadeja in the ODI’s that started producing results).

With respect to bowling outfit, it is surely an improved version compared to England series. I mean, there is no off-color Zaheer Khan or the injury prone Umesh Yadav to give selection headache ahead of the game day. So, it is good news from my perspective. Boiling down to the individual talents, B Kumar and Pragyan Ojha are the best bets. Is the duo good enough to run thru the Australian side in every match? Not possibly. The support cast of Harbhajan Singh and Ashwin are not exciting. Thankfully Ishant Sharma had good number of limited overs games in the recent days, is a big plus. But one cannot ignore the fact that Ishant Sharma is not popular on wickets columns. With Jadeja, I still ponder if he is a worth an investment in Test Cricket? It is my personal judgment that Ashwin has better potential to become a good all round cricketer than Jadeja in Test Cricket. Also, I don’t see a need for two left arm spinners in the XI, when there are as many as 4/5 left hand batters in the opposition line up (Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Wade, Khawaja, Johnson).

Logically, B Kumar, Ojha, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh are the best bowling options from the squad. And, Ashwin is more than adequate to walk into the side as 5th bowler. If the above bowling quadrant is persisted majority of the series, I would say, the attack has the ability to support the totals posted by the batting unit.

Sehwag, Rahane, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Ashwin, Dhoni, B Kumar, Harbhajan, Ishanth Sharma, Ojha would be my starting lineup.

At this time, I read Ashwin as a better batsman than Vijay and prefer to play him in the XI. Also his inclusion should help the relatively weaker bowling unit. After all, bowlers win matches and it is important that India has adequate bowling resources in the lineup.

But, the management/selectors perceive Rahane as middle order prospect. So, Vijay should partner Sehwag, while Rahane is likely to compete for a spot in the side with Ashwin/Jadeja. Knowing our conservative approach to pack the side with batsman, it most likely that India will field Sehwag, Vijay, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Rahane, Dhoni, B Kumar, Ashwin, Ishanth Sharma, Ojha.

From Australia
Outside Michel Clarke, I don’t see any other batsman a big threat. It is funny that every day Michel Clarke keeps picking Shane Watson for his role in the side as a pure batsman. It is high time somebody remind Clarke that Watson is probably their next best bet with the bat. Curious to see how remaining batsman cope with the low, slow sub-continent strips (except Mohali)?

In area of fast bowling, Australians are far superior. Siddle, Johnson, Starc, Pattinson are all, better resources than the Indian counterpart. Also Lyon appears to be in better form than Ashwin & Bhajji in the spin department. So the contest is likely to be between Indian Batsman Vs Australian Bowlers. With respect to the logic of building this series, I back the Indian batsman to come good over Australian bowlers in the low slow sub-continent surfaces. Similarly, I back the weaker Indian bowling to outsmart the inexperienced Aussie batting lineup.

Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade, Xoherty, Lyon, Siddle, Starc/Johnson could be the possible lineup for the First Test.

In all, India should win at Chennai, thread between draw and win at Hyderabad & Delhi and lose at Mohali.

Bottom line: I predict India to win 2-1. I will be more than excited if India wins 3-1. I will be extremely critical at selectors/team management, if India manages to draw the series 1-1. If, India loses the series – CHOP THE CAPTAIN.

Cricket Lover

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