Thursday, 22 December 2011

India down under

As I write, there remain less than twenty four hours before a new chapter in the cricketing rivalry between India and Australia opens. The last six series between the two sides have produced more than their fair share of drama and excitement. Narrow margins, astonishing turnarounds, historic wins, off-field controversies and much else besides have characterised the recently emerged rivalry which could closely match the Ashes for sheer intensity. Needless to say, as the two teams prepare to face off, expectations are pretty much sky high. As the two-test series in India last year showed, its impossible to say what to expect when these two teams are pitted against each other.

Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Former Australian greats are already predicting that India's attack is likely to come a cropper without Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both of whom look unlikely to last a whole series. Their views are not entirely unfounded, as the remaining bowlers (Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ozha) are all inexperienced bowlers on their first or second tour abroad- hardly the kind of attack with which one takes on the Australians in their own backyard.

Ishant & Zaheer

There's also the very real fear that India's aging veterans might not find the going easy against a pacey young Australian attack on pitches that might offer bounce and seam movement. especially with both Indian openers in inconsistent form, there's the very real possibility that the middle order might find itself regularly having to face the new ball- hardly an encouraging prospect.

On the flip side, Australia too have a batting line up featuring too many men with uncertain futures. Neither opener is guaranteed to last till the end of the series. In Ricky Ponting, Australia have a once great batsman clearly past his prime. At 37, he is just one bad series away from being pensioned off. Much the same could be said of Mike Hussey (36) and Brad Haddin (34), both of whom are closer to the end than to the beginning of their careers.

Ponting & Hussey

Nor is Australia's bowling attack particularly well settled. in Siddle, Pattinson, Hilfenhaus, Starc and Lyon, Australia have a pretty handy attack on paper. That, however, is no guarantee that they will give the opposition sleepless nights. Siddle and Hilfenhaus have frequently struggled for consistency and the remaining bowlers are pretty much at the beginning of their careers. Whatever they go on to achieve in their careers, they certainly aren't in the Warne-McGrath-Gillespie league at this point in time.

And so we have the prospect of a face off between two flawed teams with, two mid ranked sides with the potential to match the best on any given day, but equally, the potential to spectacularly self-destruct. Given that background, it would be foolhardy to make any predictions. The last time I attempted to make one (on this very blog by the way), I got a spectacularly huge egg in the face.

My heart is naturally with India but my mind is with Australia. True, Australia have time and again shown a tendency to collapse in recent times, but all those collapses have happened against high quality bowling and it looks doubtful whether the Indian attack can consistently produce good deliveries, unless Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are both fully fit AND both are firing from all cylinders. The other bowlers are too inexperienced in my mind, to inflict regular collapses. Add to it the fact that the Indian openers Sehwag and Gambhir have hardly produced any test match innings of note in the recent past. The signs are far from encouraging for a side intending to make history.

Admittedly Australia aren't exactly in the pink of health themselves. Almost everything I've written about the Indians could equally apply to the Kangaroos. Nonetheless, they are the side better equipped to handle the conditions on offer and they are the side with the bigger contingency of spectators cheering for them- a factor whose importance can scarcely be exaggerated. In the battle between two equally flawed sides, the home advantage should give them the edge. 

And so my prediction for the series is 3-1 to Australia.

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