James Patinson, Michael Clarke... in great form © Getty Images
James Patinson, Michael Clarke… in great form © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

A lot has changed from 2007-08, the last time India toured Australia. Then, India vs Australia was the hottest contest in the world of cricket. Australia were beginning to feel the pinch of multiple retirements, but still had enough of the old boys in the side to be formidable. India overcame the fractious events of Sydney 2008 and injury to Zaheer Khan to take a Test off Australia and lost a closely fought series 2-1.

 

Cut to 2011 and, in the run-up to the series billed as Thunder Down Under, an epidemic of injuries has left both teams struggling to find a composition of bowlers that will last the distance of…er, four Tests! Not much is known about how Ryan Harris will go. Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins are already ruled out of the Test series. The fitness of India’s spearhead Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma is still uncertain, while Varun Aaron was out with injury woes even before the team left India. While all this has ensued, Australia and India have both been knocked off the No.1 spot at different times. India is barely ahead of No. 3 South Africa and Australia is some distance behind at No 4.

 

The regular flow of injury news has made me revise my opinion of who has the edge in the series over and over. When India slumped in England and struggled to keep inexperienced West Indies at bay in Delhi, I felt their chances in Australia looked dim. In came the news that Pat Cummins would not play in the Test series. With Johnson already ruled out, their attack suddenly looked bare and too reliant on injury prone Harris and Shane Watson.

 

Enter James Pattinson. With only 10 first-class matches under his belt, he was pressed into service against New Zealand, alongside Mitchell Starc. He was clearly the more impressive bowler and has bagged 14 wickets in two Tests. More importantly, he is strong as an ox and hits the deck hard – ideal to dish out some chin music along with the ever-willing Peter Siddle. The New Zealand batsmen have truly looked out of their depth on green tops and India will pose a sterner challenge for the rookie. But India are also coming off their home season on typically low and slow pitches and don’t know much about this bowler. He may turn out to be a dark horse and swing it in Australia’s favour. Should the mandatory injury to Zaheer Khan strike early in the series, India will lag behind in the bowling department.

 

Closing the gap on the batting front is the rejuvenated Michael Clarke. He has been in great touch since taking over the mantle of captaincy and also converts more of his starts to big knocks. He has ably filled the breach left by Ricky Ponting’s continued struggles with the bat.  Remember, though, that India have a knack of bowling batsmen out of their bad patch and back into form. Given the chance, Ponting has the class to grab a mile and then some. Phil Hughes and David Warner may not be the most ideal selections as Test openers, to say the least, but who’s to say they are not capable of dispatching inexperienced Indian bowlers on a leather hunt.

 

Around this time last year, India managed to square a series in South Africa even as England drubbed Australia. Talk was that India’s tour to Australia this year would be its best chance to win a series in Australia, especially if the big three continued to bat. Since then, India have struggled to find a stable bowling line-up and that may dent their hopes down under.  While Australia faces the same problem, they also enjoy greater familiarity with the conditions. And, as between Pattinson, Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun, it’s easy to guess who is the most encouraging prospect.

 

Australia looks more capable of coping with its injury woes with suitable reinforcements.  That neutralises any advantage India enjoys in the batting department. Expect a tough series with Australia having the edge.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)