It was 1998 and Australia was playing India for the Border-Gavaskar trophy. India convincingly defeated the Aussies in the first two tests and won the series. In the final test, Australia surprised the hosts by winning the test by a margin of 8 wickets.
Mark Taylor, then Aussie skipper was jubilant and I couldn’t understand as to why he was so happy as they only managed to win a game but not the series. In his post match presentation he remarked that this victory actually made his men believe that they could actually win games in India. The seed for the success against India in 2004 Test series has been sowed in the Aussie minds.
India now finds itself in a similar situation. This young Indian team needs to win the test match in Sydney to prove it to themselves that they are not here only to compete but they can actually win a game down-under, which is what matters.
Virat Kohli is all set to become the skipper on a permanent basis after the shock retirement of MS Dhoni. With lot of pride to play for in this last test, his aggressive approach might be the medicine India needs to win this game.
One must also not forget that aggression is a double-edged sword which makes you believe that victory is not far way but often does not reveal that defeat is at similar distance too. Adelaide was a classic example where if a little more sensible approach would have been applied, India would now be only 1-0 down with a chance to equalize in Sydney.
As Sun Tzu writes in his book: Art of War, sometimes retreat from the enemy is the best solution as you get to live another day to fight. Indians would be well advised to take this into account for the future.
On the batting front Shikhar Dhawan has exhausted all the chances and it is clearly time to change. His weakness around his off stump has become untenable and L.Rahul could be opening with Vijay come 6 of January. Rahul looked nervous in Melbourne playing uncharacteristic shots for a top order player, but definitely deserves another chance.
Vijay the Monk, has been the in form player for India and they will be hoping that he will continue his vein of rich form and continue giving solidity at the top order.
Kohli and Rahane will be hoping more runs are added to swell their series tally. Kohli will be aiming to become the first Indian ever to have 4 tons in an away series against Australia. To put it in a simple way, if India wins this test match the runs would have come from the bats of these two gentlemen.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been a real disappointment for India. He seems to have regressed in his test career after fantastic start. He seems to have been caught up in perfecting his technique which sometimes is a dangerous way to play the game as the only currency on which players are judged are by the runs they score. India though needs to stick with him and a full season of county cricket next summer will do him a world of good.
The crucial number 6 position once again becomes debatable: Rohit or Raina is the new question in everyone’s mind. Although Rohit is more talented, Raina might get a go ahead of him and this gives him a chance to resurrect his forgotten test career. He could also give India the fifth bowler option and bowl some tight overs.
India will be desperately hoping that tail finally wags. It is the runs scored by Australian lower order that has made a huge difference and set them on the victory path. Indian lower order led by Ashwin needs to fight it out in the middle rather than meekly surrendering.
India’s major problem in this series has been the incapability of bowlers to pick up 20 wickets. The pacers look raw and inconsistent. To pick up wickets in test cricket, lot of patience along with genuine skill is required. Indian seamers currently seem to lack in the earlier quotient.
Ishant Sharma has been good in spells and once again inconsistent. The consistency he seemed to have achieved against New Zealand and England has once again disappeared. Being the leader of the attack he needs to think smart and perform better.
Umesh Yadav also looked impressive in spells. He is someone with immense talent and he will only get better by playing more games. Indians need to stick with him. He looked a genuine wicket taker and India needs to nurture him. He will have to play an important role if India has to win the game here.
Mohammed Shami looks jaded to the one we saw at his debut. He looks confused as to bowl fast and look for wickets or contain the batsmen. This muddled thinking comes from the coaching set up which is very defensive. He is a wicket-taking bowler and all he should be advised is to go out there and bowl quick and get wickets. He might have to pave way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar if he is fully fit. Although with the world cup so close, Kumar might not be risked. In the end it might end up as a toss up between Shami and Varun Aaron.
Ashwin will once again don the mantle of lone spin bowler. He genuinely improved his bowling in overseas conditions as seen in Melbourne. He will play the key role of containing the batsmen at one end thereby enabling the quicks to have a go at the other end. He will have a very important role especially in the second innings, as the wicket here does tend to do more than favoring spinners in second innings.
One other thing India needs to improve dramatically is their catching in the slips. With Raina probably coming in, this issue could be addressed to a certain extent. But it is indeed shocking to see an international team catching so poorly.
On the Aussie front, they are expected to field the same team although Mitchell Johnson seems to have injured his hamstring and will sit out. Mitch Starc could be in for a like to like replacement.
A new era of Indian cricket will be ushered in at Sydney with Virat Kohli crowned as the new skipper of Test Team. His aggressive attitude on and off the field will now be microscopically analyzed and he will be under ever increasing pressure if the approach does not lead to victories on the field.
Indian cricket deserves better than it has witnessed over the last one year in the test cricket. Lets hope the change at top will also bring a change in fortunes in the New Year.
Sportzcosmos Indian Team for Sydney Test:
Vijay, Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Saha, Ashwin, Ishant, Yadav, Aaron/Shami