Australia vs India: all-consuming series preview

Fact: Australia haven't won a Test against India since the 6th of January, 2008. There have been 8 Tests between the two since then, of which 5 have been won by India, and the other 3 have been drawn. The first of these 8 matches marked the return of a little-know opener, Virender Sehwag, to the Indian Test side. Coincidence? I think not. But I also think that India should pick Ajit Agarkar once in a while, so you'd be better off not taking me seriously. Unless you also want Agarkar picked, in which case you must join the fan club. (Just kidding. This is the real link).

I'd pick him because he looks like he might just cry if I don't.
Anyway, I know that 6 of the last 8 Indo-Aussie Tests have been in India, and that India's immense home advantage and mid-decade rise, coupled with Australia's decline, meant that India were always favorites for those Tests.

If you compare the last team to tour there and the current one, you'll find that the batting order has improved by a great deal, simply with the addition of Gautam Gambhir at the top. There is no Ganguly, but there's the future skipper, Virat Kohli. Dravid, on that tour, was declining as a player, and was in the painful, fighting-to-score form that saw him make a 114-ball 16, but he's back to his best now. We played two spinners on that tour (which I think we should do this time too, but more on that later) - Anil Kumble, my idol, was well past his prime as a bowler, and Harbhajan Singh, my idol (haha, not really) was not far off from being past his prime. Zaheer Khan was the spearhead then, too, but the real difference was in the pace department. There was one RP Singh, who was good enough to keep Ishant Sharma on the bench. An Ishant Sharma, I might add, who would soon do to Ricky Ponting what everyone now does to Ricky Ponting (made myself laugh there). Verdict: batting is stronger, bowling weaker.

As for Australia, their openers then were a still-scoring Matthew Hayden, of whom David Warner looks a fairly similar replacement, and Phil Jaques. Remember him? Where'd he go? He averages 47 in Tests, and his last innings was a century against the West Indies. I'll just assume he beat the selectors at FIFA or something, or whatever the Aussie equivalent of a popular video game is.

"Yeah, I beat Hilditch at Didgeridoo Hero. He just wouldn't get over it. It's probably my smirk."
The middle order was the same: Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, and then an almost off-the-wagon Symonds and an almost-retired Gilchrist. Then there were Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Brad "the Tongue" Hogg, all of whom were as good as they had ever been, and also a less shite Mitchell Johnson. Four bowlers, so obviously balance didn't mean much then either. Verdict: Bowlers now have more potential, but less experience. I'll go with stagnant. And batting, definitely a regression.

On to the main feature, then.


Squad: MS Dhoni (capt &wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun, Rohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, R Vinay Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Zaheer Khan.

It always seems like there is no worry on the batting front for India. In Australia, this is how India's batsmen have fared:
  • Sehwag: 7 matches, 833 runs @ 59.50, 2 hundreds.
  • Dravid: 12 matches, 972 runs @ 48.60, 1 hundred (the 233).
  • Sachin: 16 matches, 1522 runs @ 58.53, 6 hundreds.
  • Laxman: 11 matches, 1081 runs @ 54.04, 4 hundreds.
Gambhir and Kohli have not played in Australia. It's amazes me, on seeing those stats, that we haven't won a series there. It just shows you how much better Australia have been, and that perhaps India have not batted well as a team too often. Dhoni will be a worry as always - he averages 17.62 in the 8 innings he has played in Australia, but we also know that he's a much better batsman than he was in 2008.

If Sehwag can curb his boredom, and if Sachin doesn't allow the century-monkey on his back to prevent him from playing the free, positive game we need from him, runs won't be an issue.

"Did he just say monkey? He did, didn't he? Screw you, man."
There are far too many concerns with the bowling, and I won't believe a word MSD says until I've personally seen Zaheer and Ishant bowl (interesting fact: against Australia, both have a near-identical average, strike rate and economy rate). As much as Umesh Yadav surprised me against the West Indies, I don't think three quicks should be in the XI just for the sake of it. The four best bowlers are Zaheer, Ishant, Ashwin and Ojha, and that's what the combination should be. In my ideal XI, I'd do away with the extra batsmen and go with three quicks and two spinners, because if a top 5 of that caliber doesn't score enough runs, then they don't really deserve to win.

Likely XI: Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kohli, Dhoni (c)(wk), Ashwin, Ishant, Zaheer, Ojha.


XI: David Warner, Ed Cowan, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (capt), Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin (wk), Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Ben Hilfenhaus.

Luckily, I don't have to speculate much on this side, because the XI has already been announced. Phil Hughes, who seemed to have become quite the expert at Nick Cricket (that should be an actual game, I'd buy it), was finally given the boot after taking the moronic brave call to skip the BBL to focus on his game. Unfortunately, this means that he's now stuck at home watching it on the telly, since there are no other matches to play. Usman "Asian wrists" Khawaja was also left out after failing to make anything more than a good impression.

No, Mark Nicholas, these are Asian wrists.
This makes way for new-crab-on-the-block, Eddie Cowan, and the graceful (in a cricket way, not a Black Swan way) Shaun Marsh. Thanks to the IPL, David Warner and Shaun Marsh will know many a member of this Indian side, thus eliminating any advantage of surprise either side may have had in this regard. As for Ed Cowan; in 2008, the domestically prolific (more than Cowan, even) and similarly left-handed Chris Rogers, also began his career at home against India. He only scored 19 runs in that Test, and was never heard from again. Some say that he moved to Sweden and now sells hot dogs (fact: not true). Anyway , Cowan already has a hundred against us, however, so he has already distinguished himself.

The batting looks heavy, even with Ponting - never underestimate his ability to want to score against India. Cap'n Clarke looks in great touch, but Hussey will be the worry for Australia, being vulnerable to good swing, good spin, a cat on rollerskates, any kind of movement, really. Pattinson is still an unknown quantity for us, so I'd watch out for him. We tackled Siddle and Hilfenhaus with ease at home, but this is their backyard, and they will want to push us off their swing as soon as possible (I ran free with that analogy). Hilfenhaus, in particular, has that lovely outswinger that Sehwag and Sachin (and to some extent, Kohli) have been known to not just flirt with, but take out to dinner and movie. It's a fine line with Hilfy though - at his pace, slight aberrations in line and length and he will be taken apart. As for spin, I'm afraid that Nathan Lyon may be in for a whipping, and not the good kind (there is no good kind of whipping). I hope that Australia has the sense not to dump him should this whipping be administered, as was done with Hauritz - this is trial by Fiendfyre (look it up) (warning: it may not be worth it).

Official-looking prediction: 1-1. I will go for a drawn series, much to my own consternation. India's bowling doesn't look like a series-winning one, and neither does Australia's.