Zaheer Khan (L) and Virender Sehwag © Getty Images
Zaheer Khan (L) and Virender Sehwag © Getty Images

 

By Vidooshak

 

Australia has put their cards on the table. They are struggling to string together a team that can be called their first eleven. Retaining Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey was a no-brainer given the underwhelming performance of Ponting’s putative replacement, Usman Khawaja. Marcus North and Steve Smith’s quick fizzle means that Hussey gets some more chances to get it right.

 

Ed Cowan and David Warner at the top of the order may seem a juicy proposition to Zaheer Khan. However, it could just be what the doctor ordered for Australia. These two might be the long term answer for their country. Ed Cowan’s style, based on what’s described, seems to be sedate – almost creeping up on you without making waves. Warner, clearly relishes the visibility; much like Virender Sehwag and Matthew Hayden. A couple of Tests against India will be a good way to kick-off a long term partnership at the top for Australia.

 

The big story, though, is that of the bowlers coming back into focus. Cricinfo ran an insightful article highlighting the leveling of the playing field. Young bowlers – both fast and spin – are beginning to make impacts on Test matches. While the era of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Waqar Younis and Allan Donald is not back, signs are that we might be seeing the end of multiple 50+ batting averages. Australia has a bunch of young bowlers that seem to be ready for the big test against India’s vaunted batting line-up. Nathan Lyon will play a containment role at best, except in Sydney where he may do more. Michael Clarke, too, is a decent bowler who, I believe, underbowls himself. Despite the cloud over the Sydney Test in 2008, we remember that it was Clarke that sent India to doom. It’s likely that Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will make up the seam attack with Lyon being the sole spinner.

 

Australia’s biggest challenge is going to be its ability to gel as a team. This combination of players has not played together, and coming together for the first time against one of the top teams is probably not a perfect place to be. Having said that, India need to drive home the advantage by being aggressive and hostile in terms of their fast bowling. They should immediately seek to put pressure on the Australians – whether bowling or batting first. Austalia’s top three are relatively inexperienced and India should seek to take advantage of that.

 

Umesh Yadav needs to be given the full license to be hostile and quick. This is one quality of Shantakumaran Sreesanth that made him a great Test match bowler at times. Yadav would do well to learn the patterns of the great bowlers of the ’90s. Ambrose, Akram, Younis, Donald and others were capable of producing bursts of hostility that no batsman could counter. If Yadav has that capability of stepping on the gas in key moments of a Test match, India would have found a winner. On the other hand, it’s hard to do that if he’s playing as the third seamer. So getting the combination right is going to be important for India.

 

India’s Achilles heel is obviously the fitness of its opening bowlers. Enough has been written about Ishant Sharma‘s ankle and Zaheer Khan’s readiness. The worry is that Ishant may bowl conservatively due to his ankle. Neither Abhimanyu Mithun nor Vinay Kumar are adequate replacements. And this gives me the chance to lament once more about Irfan Khan being left out.

 

Should Zaheer and Ishant not pull their weight in the team, it’ll be upto Yadav and Ashwin to do the heavy lifting. This could lead to Yadav being overworked and a candidate for future breakdown. Ashwin has quickly become the hope for India. He’s intelligent, smooth and incisive. He’s got all the tricks and he’s in form. Hopefully, he’ll be used right by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and play a key role in India’s success Down Under.

 

But then it all comes down to India’s batting. The formula has been to post big first innings runs. Lately, this has suffered somewhat with Sachin Tendulkar not being able score the huge runs he normally did. We have found someone that can consistently play rearguards in VVS Laxman. Virat Kohli, too, is picking up this mantle. Kohli is doing everything that I had imagined Mohammed Kaif would do when he was the hottest item in Indian cricket. India’s fortunes once again will depend on Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir demoralising Australia’s young attack.

 

Zaheer or Sehwag need to set the tone in the first innings of the first Test for India to win its first series Down Under.

 

(Vidooshak is a blogger @ Opinions on Cricket . He was drawn into cricket by Golandaaz as a schoolboy. His bluster overshadows his cricketing ability. He played as a wicket-keeper in a college team but was promptly dropped. The college selection committee had slightly higher standards than Pakistani selectors. He did reasonably well in tennis ball cricket until he was benched for a final game by the team that he captained. To say some of it was due to his opinions would be an understatement of sorts. Regardless, Vidooshak finds time to opinionate relentlessly and lives a vicarious life by watching cricket teams make obvious mistakes. Good news for Vidooshak is that someone always loses a cricket game, someone always gets belted and someone always flops. Vidooshak always looks for an alternative explanation and rarely agrees with mainstream consensus. Needless to say he has no friends, only ‘tolerators’! While not throwing his weight around, Vidooshak does not run marathons or draw pictures, but reads voraciously on all topics, volunteers at local failing schools, is an avid but average golfer and runs an Indian association in mid-west America)