In a troubled year wherein they have lost much more than what they should have, Australia land in India to play as many as seven One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and a one-off Twenty20 match. A bilateral series between the two cricketing powerhouses has always been a must-watch, a treat for the lovers of the game all over. But this time around, it has failed to create the hype. Devarchit Varma has more…
Ask any Indian fan the joy he or she experienced on the eve of March 24, 2011, when Yuvraj Singh cracked a boundary off Brett Lee through the covers to knock Australia out of the 2011 ICC World Cup. The entire country danced in sheer delight, some termed it as the revenge of the loss in the 2003 World Cup final, while some were just happy with the fact that it was Australia — the rowdy Australians — who had been knocked out. It was joy for more than a few reasons. The social media platforms such as Facebook were flooded with loads of congratulatory and celebratory posts. Among them was a photo of the two legends — Ricky Ponting talking to Sachin Tendulkar, perhaps about the delay being caused due to the positioning of the sightscreen at the Sardar Patel Stadium. The Indian fans found their own way of fun: Speech bubbles were added above both Ponting and Tendulkar, with the former asking the Indian legend, ‘Which way to the airport’?
Recall that night and the euphoria that it brought and compare it with the upcoming clash, where a strong Indian side takes on the struggling Australians minus the stars (read: whatever they are left with), you will not find the same lustre and excitement it used to have few seasons ago. Australia might still be a strong side at home, but put them anywhere else in the world and the firepower goes down significantly.
Perhaps that was the beginning of the end for the Australians. Since the 2011 ICC World Cup, Australia have won only 29 out of the 56 ODIs that they have played. In Test cricket, they have won only one out of their last 10 matches this year, losing seven and only forcing a draw in the other two. Gone are those days when the name itself used to instil fear in the opposition. Some used to say, ‘anyone who wears the Australian jersey is good enough to beat the best of the best on any given day’. Sadly, the notion doesn’t stand anymore. As Ian Chappell puts it in his column for Hindustan Times, “During the golden years, Australian teams had an inbuilt advantage; many of their opponents were half beaten the moment they looked at the opposing team list.”
Sadly, it isn’t the same anymore. Australia have been depleted, battered and bruised. While they are no more the dominant side as they were, they have somehow managed to cling on to the No 2 spot in the ODI rankings. The series against India provide them a chance to become world No 1, but is that possible? Is it easy to beat the world champion Indian side in its own backyard?
Australia may be having some good prospects on this tour, but they could end up losing some more — especially with a rookie captain and a totally new set of players. There’s a mere four-point gap between them and the third-placed England, while lagging behind the top-ranked India by eight points. A loss to the home side by a big margin, which wouldn’t surprise many, in the seven-match series can have an adverse effect on the rankings.
Australia’s last outing in India this year was a disaster, and now as they return to complete the formalities of a full tour, they cannot be hopeful of a big turnaround. Their problems are too deep to recover within a span of a few months. The mauling received in India in Tests, the loss in the Ashes 2013 has smashed their confidence. When Brad Haddin talks about playing fearless cricket on this tour he hits the bull’s-eye — Australia cannot be ravaged more than what they have been by their competitors and even by themselves.
For the Indian fans, perhaps this series doesn’t carry much significance. Looking at their team’s performance in the limited-overs format and at their opponents — the Michael Clarke-less Australia — one could easily brag about a big win. Indians have a far more settled side then Australia, they are playing at home and have many factors in their favour. But for Australia, a series consisting eight limited-overs matches in the sub-continent sandwiched between the Ashes in England and then at home, it certainly does no good. The administrators can rake in money with the big ticket item, but what benefit does it have for the players? Among those touring India, the ones who are likely to make it to Australia squad for the return Ashes — Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Phil Hughes and James Faulkner — will not get enough of practise with the red ball in Australian conditions as compared to what the others like Usman Khawaja will get.
For the Australian fans, not much could be anticipated. The backbone of their batting line-up, Clarke, is recuperating and their battery of frontline pacers is rejuvenating and preparing for the Ashes. What Australia have in India is a bunch of talented cricketers with a little amount of experience of Indian conditions — certainly not enough to tame the Indians in their own backyard. Leave alone the prospect of winning the seven-match series and displacing the Indians as top-ranked ODI side.
Interestingly, Cricket Australia and national coach Darren Lehmann have done their bit to put in some excitement for the touring bunch of young and aspiring Australians. A promise has been made to the players to be considered for selection in the Ashes 2013-14 in case they excel in India. Stand-in skipper George Bailey revealed the message from his bosses to the Sydney Morning Herald, “They made it really clear that doing well on this Indian tour, scoring runs over there will be looked upon in the same regard as the guys that are staying back and playing the first couple of rounds of Shield cricket.”
The India-Australia series certainly doesn’t promise the excitement and thrill as its preceding editions brought, but an Australian side that contains players of the next generation, one would only hope that they obtain necessary experience and it turns out to be a good learning curve.