The Boxing Day Test is an important event in the Australian sporting calendar. In the 2010-11 Ashes series, the touring English team gave the home side much to think about by the end of the Boxing Day test of 2010.
Fast forward a year to Boxing Day 2011, a young and new look Australian side have already come a long way. You would agree that good test teams always rally around a strong bowling battery. Australia have certainly dug deep and done well in their rebuilding process in bowling department in the last one year.
The vacuum has been largely filled, barring the absence of a world class spinner. But then a Shane Warne does not "happen" routinely. Hearteningly, they have created a strong pipeline of young seam bowling talent. Certainly a lot of credit must also go to the preparation, planning and disciplined execution of the bowling plans on the pitch. Yes, the batting does look fragile at present. But you can expect that during this series a more settled Australian batting combination, and order, will emerge.
India on the other hand is struggling. More than the team management and large community of supporters may care to admit. With the fitness issues of Zaheer Khan resolved for the present, Ishant having added a few yards and Yadav showing strong ability, the seam unit looks fine. After a long time, in alien conditions, India managed to pick 20 wickets in a test match. Notably though against a relatively weak Australian batting line up.
The real worry is the Indian batting. The stalwarts are present, but akin to the recent summer in England, India failed to get past 300 in both innings of the Melbourne test. Well executed bowling plans of the opposition worked again, very much as they did all summer in England. Relentless, disciplined and aggressive seam bowling from both ends saw the Indian batting line up crumble twice in two days at the MCG.
Sehwag plays the way he does, always keeping the bowlers interested. Gambhir remains susceptible in the 4th off-stump corridor, Laxman unable to curb his compulsive pulling of the short rising delivery. Dravid and Tendulkar have been regularly drawn into front foot drives, with well pitched up off-stump lines, and enough movement to cause trouble. Make no mistake, that takes some doing! But it's being done, time and again.
One hopes that there will be a few big scores in this series from one or more of the Indian batting legends, but let's just say, it's not looking easy. Australia, like England, have clearly done their homework for each batsman, and then executed the plans perfectly on the pitch. The Indian batting will have to dig deep, to seize the initiative in Sydney. The strategy quite simply has to be crease occupation. Not for Dravid alone, but for the top seven Indian batsman, if the trend has to change.
Look forward to a good contest in Sydney. And by the way, are you missing the DRS as much as me?