Indian cricket has been moving forward in short bursts since the England series, around the middle of this year.
Since then, India were partly successful in attempting to play West Indies at home, whose minds were clearly somewhere else and their last minute replacement, Sri Lanka with their umpteenth tour of India. In my opinion, both boards have lost count of how many bilateral series they have played in the last 5 years. The only significant memory from the ODI series would be Rohit Sharma’s record breaking double century. For Lankans the most important thing to come out of the series is the promise by BCCI to reciprocate the tour by having a series in the island nation next summer and thereby fill up Sri Lankan cricket coffers.
The last time India visited Australia, the series resulted in closing the curtains on some illustrious careers. The hope this time around is, the new torch bearers of Indian Cricket would further enhance their reputation and not meekly surrender overseas. Glimpses of this ability to fight were visible in patches of few sessions in New Zealand, South Africa and England. Some of the players have already started building a reputation to hang in there in unfriendly conditions and fight it out.
Over the next few days let’s go through the different departments and see where India stands compared to its peers in Australia. And to start off, I am picking batting, as we Indians always like to.
The opening conundrum:
Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order does not instill the same confidence overseas, as much as he does at home. In unfriendly conditions, he tries to hang in there, which is against his very nature of aggression and eventually gives up his wicket at some point. Also his penchant to attack the short ball and being a happy Hooker will be tested on the big grounds in Australia. In spite of the tragic incident that has occurred with the untimely demise of Phil Hughes after being struck by a bouncer while batting, I doubt the Australian bowlers will shy away from unleashing the short ball – which has been their weapon of choice against England and South Africa in the last summer in the Southern Hemisphere. This could prove to be a testing time for Dhawan in a make or break series for him.
Murali Vijay in spite of all the inadequacies in his technique pointed out by cricket pundits has developed the skill to just hang in there and wait for the shine to go away before he gets scoring. This ability to patiently see off the new ball has helped India a lot in its recent overseas trips, however he now needs to contribute big scores on a consistent basis.
In the two practice matches Dhawan with scores of 10,0 did not show any promise that he will provide the stability at the top of the order. The other opener on the tour K L Rahul, a newbie to Test cricket, I am sure would not be tried, directly in a Test Match in Australia without even a practice match under his belt, irrespective of his pedigree and domestic records. That leaves only one other choice for a third opener, in case Dhawan continues to fail. That most likely looks to be Rahane, who otherwise seems to be well settled in the middle order. How the opener mystery unfolds, only time will answer.
The Middle Order:
A real Pujara kind of innings is long overdue on foreign pitches. The Pujara who grinds opposition to death with his monstrous scores of 150+s, is what the Indian Test Cricket fans are waiting for. A tendency to expose the “gate” is what caused his downfall in most of his innings in England. With the accuracy of Siddle and Harris, this would be thoroughly tested.
Virat Kohli’s technique has been thoroughly tested outside the off stump by Anderson and co in England. Johnson with his express pace and natural ball that goes away from right handers would be raring to go against Kohli. Although the home games have shown that he is getting back to his dominant ways, it will be interesting to see if he can replicate the ODI form shown in India recently and of course the question on everyone’s minds: Is he the next big Indian batting great in Test arena? The one real positive for him; It doesn’t swing as much in Australia.
Rahane in the middle order at number 5/6 has been quite a revelation.He has shown immaculate technique and the patience to wait for the loose ball to punish. Being a top order batsmen in domestic cricket and IPL helped him to negotiate the second new ball with lot more ease. His ability to farm the strike around the lower order has helped the team’s cause.
I am assuming Rohit Sharma to be in the starting lineup for the Test series, as he is fresh from his second double century in ODI. A big century or a quality stand out innings is due from Rohit Sharma. His ability to start slow and accelerate in ODI needs to be put to use even in tests. More than anything else his temperament and perseverance would be thoroughly tested. This is definitely one area of concern, as can be seen from his dismissal against Moeen Ali in England.
At the tail end of the Middle Order comes the man who shoulders a lot of responsibility, as a captain, wicket keeper and much more to his fans. Although a real overseas century outside subcontinent still eludes him, he has learnt the technique of battling it out when things are down. To cover for the swing sometimes, you can just see him couple of steps forward for not so quick bowlers. He may not try this against the quicks in Australia, but might come up with some other way to make runs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar showed what a value add he was, specially in the initial two tests in England. Whether he would have the same success against Australia is up for debate, but at least he showed that he values his wicket and is not going to throw it away. (Latest update: Bhuvaeshwar Kumar out of first two tests with injury)
For all the batting skills that were on display last time India was Down Under, it would be unfair to call Ashwin a lower order batsman. Shades of Laxman were visible on that tour. If anything was lacking, it was his ability to take wickets in unfriendly conditions. That might be the deciding factor to even see, if he can make it into the playing eleven.
Last but not least, we have to see how Sir Jaddu does on this tour. Can he put together his confused thoughts and streamline it to find a way to bat? His technique of walking in and swiping fast bowlers may not go down that well with the Australian pacers. He might be in for some chin music.