Tuesday, March 5, 2013

At Halfway to return the favor...

Leading the series 2-0, Indians are positioned exactly at the half way stage of returning the favor. Can they do it 4-0?

Before we get there, I see this series resembling very much to the one played at Australia. Except the roles played by these two sides have reversed.

Following are the results of the Four Test matches played at Australia, a year ago.

1st Test: Australia v India at Melbourne - Dec 26-29, 2011
Australia 333 and 240; India 282 and 169
Australia won by 122 runs

2nd Test: Australia v India at Sydney - Jan 3-6, 2012
India 191 and 400; Australia 659/4d
Australia won by an innings and 68 runs

3rd Test: Australia v India at Perth - Jan 13-15, 2012
India 161 and 171; Australia 369
Australia won by an innings and 37 runs

4th Test: Australia v India at Adelaide - Jan 24-28, 2012
Australia 604/7d and 167/5d; India 272 and 201
Australia won by 298 runs

Following are the results in the current series, thus far.

1st Test: India v Australia at Chennai - Feb 22-26, 2013
Australia 380 and 241; India 572 and 50/2
India won by 8 wickets

Australia 237/9d & 131 v India 503
India won by an innings and 135 runs

Irrespective of the series, if you take a closer look at the results, the gap between the two sides started widening with each growing test match. India put a better performance at Melbourne compared to the second Test at Sydney (where the track at Sydney better suited Indian players). The same holds good for Australia in India. On a relatively poor surface at Chennai, Australian batsman put a better show compared to the one at Hyderabad. On the contrary, Australia made changes to the side that lost at Chennai, while India didn’t at Sydney. As a matter of fact India did not make any changes to the losing side (except when Dhoni got suspended for the Final Test at Adelaide) in any of the four Test matches. Changes to the XI or not, the end game remains the same until this point. By the way, we can anticipate more changes to come from the Australian camp in the days ahead. So, if the patterns that matched thus far have any reverence, then there is every reason to believe India will return the favor.

But, what are the odds?
Before we get there, lets us appreciate the good things that have happened so far. Vijay proved that he is more than adequate to replace Gambir at that slot. For that matter, any of Dhawan/Rahane if given an opportunity would have proved us the same. This is the slot Gambir occupied little too long, yet failed to produce a century in 3 years. By the way, it is also the same slot that Sehwag occupies without any magic for the past few years. Again, I’ve no doubt if Rahane/Dhawan/Jeevanjoth Singh/Unmukt Chand/Jaffer given an opportunity to replace Sehwag, would do more justice for their selection. As much as we want a longer rope for Sehwag, Sehwag’s body language shows no interest whatsoever in the job. It will be interesting to see if the axe falls on the Delhi Marauder.

Ashwin as a lead spinner was definitely a joke both at Australia and in the series against England at home. But, in this series against Australia he (im)proved miles ahead of the comeback man Harbhajan Singh. As what is expected out of him, Ashwin showed his prowess with the ball than bat for a place in the side. He appears worthy to stay with the side for the tours abroad, while Harbhajan can consider his career more or less over after this home series. Well, you don’t need two off spinners for South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australian conditions. And after all these tours away, Ashwin may find resistence from new crop of bowlers like Pervez Rasool, Jalaj Saxena than Harbhajan Singh when India returns home.

Importantly, India settled to the settled combination of bowlers (for home conditions). My choices would have been little different, but my craving has always been that India should settle with the bowling line up. A line up that needs little tweaking during any match of the series. A line up that will peg 20 wickets. Pl read my Preview of this series, if you are not tired yet.

Coming back to the basic question, can India return the favor?
The true Test for India comes at Mohali. A surface with distinct flavor. A flavor that is expected to be advantageous for the visitors than the home side. Since India cannot lose the series from here, also lots of positives to derive, considering all the away tours ahead, it is important the track holds its identity. Considering the momentum is pretty much with Indians, it would not be a bad idea if Mohali turns out to be a lively surface. We already saw the striking similarly between the two series thus far. As much as India could not capitalize Sydney wicket, the same can potentially happen to Australia too at Mohali. If India can win at Mohali, then we can be sure India will return the favor in style.

I personally anticipate a couple of changes to the squad. Mohali might need an extra seam bowler. Ashwin decimated Australia with limited support from Harbhajan Singh (10 overs, 0 wickets) in the second innings of the second Test could have been an idea to confirm if Ashwin can lead the show all by himself. So, Harbhajan will pave way for the additional seam bowler. I think Shami Ahmed will quietly replace Dinda from the squad and replace Harbhajan in the XI. Similarly, Jeevanjoth Singh selection could possibly come at the expense of Sehwag. I also anticipate J Singh to replace Sehwag in the XI for scoring mountain of runs this season on the Mohali track. The above two things could turn true or it is just my fantasy.

Bottom line: This is one Test, i'm really craving for the youth brigade to win on a lively Mohali surface.

Cricket Lover

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