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The Agneepath Series

A Glance at India and Australia before the Border-Gavaskar Trophy gets Underway

A cricket crazy nation waits with bated breath as Team India; the second ranked Test team in the world takes on a significantly attenuated Australian side Down Under. Come this Boxing Day, the two sides will renew their fierce rivalry on the haloed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, going head to head in a highly combustible four test match series. Pundits and jingoistic fans are liable to pick the Indians as marginal favourites to clinch their first ever test series win against a doughty opponent at home; a feat they have failed to accomplish in over 9 visits, 36 Tests and 64 years! However, one would be naïve to write off Michael Clarke and his wards just yet. Team India may have a tremendous amount of experience to bank on as compared to the Australians, but games are never won on paper and words alone.

Riding high on a wave of moderate momentum after having beaten the English in a 5 game ODI series and then subsequently crushing a plucky West Indian side in a Test and ODI series, the Indians have arrived with a spring in their step and the winds of confidence in their sails.  However, one must note that these victories were all secured at home in batsman friendly conditions. Hence, there is a need to remain grounded and guarded. The severe drubbing they received at the unforgiving hands of the ruthless Englishmen on their last tour abroad will remain a grating abomination, indelibly etched at the back of their minds. Their away record may have undergone a gradual metamorphosis over the last few years under the talismanic MS Dhoni, but form and confidence can desert you at an alarming rate in alien conditions away from home (the Indians are no strangers to this bitter truth). The incentive to rectify their away record and that too in the backyard of a spirited adversary ought to propel them to rise to the occasion and play some quality cricket. An opportunity such as this seldom presents itself and it is imperative that Team India plays to its strengths and simultaneously exploits the fissures in the vulnerable Aussie team.

India’s strength indubitably lies in its batting line up that is capable of grinding the best bowling attacks in the world to dust when on song. The opening alliance between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will have to put its hands up and counter the new ball effectively in an attempt to set the foundation for sizable totals. The middle order lies in the reliable hands of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni himself. Young turks, Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma will fill the remaining specialist batsman’s spot. The pitches will aid bounce, pace and movement. The Indian batsmen are well aware of that fact and ought to know precisely what modifications to make to their existing techniques to adjust accordingly. Handling the short ball, which is the weapon of choice on these wickets, is of critical importance. The Indians’ frailties against bounce and seam away from home against even mediocre attacks are well documented. However, they need to bring all their experience into play against a relatively inexperienced Aussie attack. There also needs to be an emphasis on the rotation of strike and running between the wickets. These are cricketing fundamentals that may appear inconsequential at times but against a quality fielding unit, these minor elements can make a major difference in the cumulative scheme of things.

The Indian bowling line up although wears a forlorn look with the likes of Praveen Kumar, S Sreesanth and Varun Aaron ruled out with injury. The wily Zaheer Khan will be back to spearhead the attack; a palpable shot in the arm for the inexperienced bowling unit. However, it remains to be seen whether his fragile body that has a proclivity of often breaking down at the most inopportune of moments, is able to withstand the rigours of high intensity international cricket. The likes of Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and R. Vinay Kumar will have to step up to the plate and make healthy contributions. Moreover, this being their first trip Down Under, they need to make the critical adjustment in line and length as soon as possible. It promises to be a fruitful albeit steep learning curve for the young pace battery. Cricket aficionados the world over are eagerly awaiting the lip smacking duel between Ishant Sharma and the under fire Ricky Ponting which ignited during India’s previous tour to Australia. However, a plausible ankle injury may relegate Sharma to the bench, depriving India of some much needed experience. The spin department lies in the hands of the ever improving R Ashwin and the enterprising Pragyan Ojha. Ashwin is likely to get the nod ahead of his left arm spin twin, given his additional batting capabilities. On the whole, the bowling attack though low on experience does have the requisite skill and temperament to unsettle a brittle Aussie line up. The Indians also need to back their bowlers in the field and can ill afford to let slip too many chances against an unforgiving opposition. Their fielding has cost them dearly in the past and it is highly imperative that they lift themselves in that department.

The Australians for the first time appear to be grossly vulnerable at home. Gone are the days when they would dominate and pulverize opponents into submission. After the departure of sterling stalwarts such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer over the last few years; the team is undergoing a period of transitional rebuilding under Michael Clarke. The batting line up is relatively inexperienced with an unsettled opening combination. The poor form of senior pros such as Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey is a cause for concern. A spate of injuries to several players off late, particularly their potent bowling unit, has also added to their woes. The absence of upcoming talents such as Pat Cummins and Shaun Marsh is a major body blow to the home team. All in all, the squad lacks experience and depth. Add to that mix, low confidence fuelled by some horrendously inconsistent performances and the concomitant pressures of playing at home against a difficult challenger in India; and Australia’s job becomes all that much tougher. However, they definitely have what it takes to put paid to India’s elaborate plans and come out trumps.

The verbal salvos have been fired, the mind games are already underway and the stage is set for one humdinger of a series. Only time will tell whether India actually utilizes this priceless opportunity to drive home its advantage and conquer the “Kangaroo Frontier” or
whether Australia redeems itself by vanquishing the visitors in its own backyard…yet again. Who will walk the “agnee” path?

Who do you think will be the most influential player in this series? Leave your comments.

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Pradyut Hande
The Writer is presently pursuing his Bachelors in Business Administration at NMIMS, Mumbai. He attempts to address myriad issues of both domestic and global consequence, ranging from Business and Economics to Geopolitics...from Sports to Arts and Culture.


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