WHY THIS IS INDIA’S BEST CHANCE TO WIN A TEST SERIES IN AUSTRALIA
It is not a historic battle like the Ashes. It is not a neighbourly fight like the India-Pakistan or Australia- New Zealand series. It is not a clash for supremacy like India-England. But the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is no less a clash of the titans, especially when it is happening Down Under. The India-Australia rivalry occupies a special place in cricket. Ever since India halted Australia cavalry charge in 2001, India has become Australia’s biggest nemesis and India was the Final Frontier the Baggy Greens were desperate to capture. Of course they managed to finally win a Test series on Indian soil in 2004, but India is still to win a series Down Under. I believe that this upcoming series is the best chance India has to win a Test series in Australia.
Ever since the Border-Gavaskar Trophy came into existence in 1996, India and Australia have played each other nine six times, in India and thrice in Australia. Of these, India have won five series and Australia have won three. Of course all these wins have come on Indian soil, the three times that India played in Australia, they were whitewashed, drew and lost. When India toured Australia in 1999, they were whitewashed 3-0 despite a brilliant performance by Sachin Tendulkar.
In 2003/2004 a new-look Team India went to Australia under their talismanic skipper Sourav Ganguly and Coach John Wright. Everybody believed that it was the best chance India had to defeat the Aussies at home. India came close with some fantastic cricket in the first Test at Brisbane studded with a Ganguly century and a Zaheer Khan five-for, but that Test ended in a draw. India then went on to register a historic 4-wicket win in the second Test at Adelaide with Rahul Dravid’s 233 and a six-wicket haul by Ajit Agarkar. But Australia won the next Test at Melbourne with comprehensive 9-wickets making the last Test at Sydney the decider. Unfortunately for India, Aussies fought out a draw despite a wonderful batting performance by India posting a target of over 700. Rahul Dravid was adjudged the Man of the Series for his fabulous batting performance. The series saw some of India’s best performances as a team in Test cricket and it was indeed disappointing to see it end in a draw.
In 2007-2008 India went Down Under with a new captain at the helm, the indomitable Anil Kumble for a series that is sadly remembered more for controversy than cricket. India lost that series 2-1 with Brett Lee being awarded the man of the Series for his 24 wickets. Australia won the first Test at Melbourne comfortably by 337 runs with India getting bowled out under 200 twice. The second Test at Sydney also went to Australia by 122 runs who took an unassailable lead. However this Test was marred by the ugly Monkeygate Scandal and even worse, the horrendous umpiring errors. India managed to wipe out the negativity and win the third Test at Perth by 72 runs, a truly terrific performance at the bouncy WACA. The fourth Test at Adelaide petered down to a draw. Australia may have regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but this series lost them some respect.
This time around, however, things are different. A lot has changed in world of cricket since that tour four years back. Australia are no longer invincible or considered outright favorites to win any Test series, even on their home soil. There can be no other opportunity as good as this for India to accomplish the much coveted Test series win in Australia. Following are the some of the reasons I believe that India can win this Test series down Under –
1. Australia are no longer the Number One ranked team in the world. They have lost their stronghold in Test cricket. India has snatched the title from them in 2009 and then England took over this year. The fact that they are not at the helm of the game will surely rankle Australia, especially when playing against India to whom they lost their position.
2. The stars of the Australian team have all faded. The Australian team has never really recovered from the retirement of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and more recently Brett Lee. To add to their woes, no young players have been able to fill in the void left by the seniors. Not a single player has managed to become a consistent match-winner.
3. The current Australian team has been plagued with injuries. Strike bowler Mitchell Johnson is already ruled out, newly discovered talent Pat Cummins is also sidelined, Ryan Harris is suffering from niggles; this is big blow for the bowling department. To add to this, Shaun Marsh may not recover in time for the first Test. But what makes it worse is the fact that their Trump card, Shane Watson is coming back from an injury which could seriously affect his lethalness. Despite rookie players joining in the ranks, the absence of the senior players wills surely be felt.
4. The Australian dressing room is in turmoil. With Ricky Ponting battling demons with a barren run for almost 18 months, there are calls for the former captain’s head. The shoddy treatment of Simon Katich has left a bad taste in the mouth of Aussies, although it is not something said aloud. Even Michael Hussey, who has just had a few bad innings, is not being spared. Such atmosphere is not conducive for cricket, especially before a major series.
5. Australia has a relatively untested think tank with a new Coach and captain. Michael Clarke has just captained the team for six matches, Mickey Arthur has taken over as coach only last month. The team management hasn’t had enough time to adapt and adjust. In such a case, inexperience and lack of preparation could affect the team adversely when they come out on field.
6. India is high on momentum with a win over West Indies and the return to fitness of their key players. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not called the man with the Midas touch for nothing. In just four years he has managed to become one of the most successful Indian captains. This is his first tour of Australia s Test captain and he will surely want to make it a fruitful one.
7. After the drubbing received in England, India would like to set the record straight. A team like India would be hurt by their dreadful performance, losing 4-0 and will be raring to go. The England debacle is sure to spur the Indians to perform out of their skins, just to prove their caliber once again.
8. Though the same was said back in 2007, but this time it is more or less certain; this could be the last Australian tour for India’s illustrious middle order. Australia has always been the favorite stage to perform for the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and the “Creaky Terminators” are back to their beloved stadiums. Nothing brings out the best in Indian players like facing the Aussies and I am sure than Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir are waiting to come to the party.
9. Indian bowling attack looks decent, I’m not saying lethal, but good enough. A fully fit Zaheer Khan is an asset, and he would be looking forward to playing a full Australian tour for the first time. Ishant Sharma had a dream run during the last tour and his previous experience will be valuable. In Umesh Yadav, India has that one quality fast bowler who can hit the deck hard and generate good pace and bounce. Of course injuries to Praveen Kumar and Varun Aaron are body blows, greenhorns Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun could be a problem. The spin department looks good enough with the in-song R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. Hopefully the absence of premier spinner Harbhajan Singh won’t be missed a lot.
As an Indian fan it is obvious that a bias will always creep in. These are just the reasons I feel why India can win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Australian soil. More than believing, I want India to win this series as there is no higher achievement than in defeating Australia on their home turf, irrespective of how their team is. Here is to a successful Australian sojourn for our beloved Boys in Blue.