As Australia prepares for its Indian Summer by playing pyjama cricket against the Kiwis, India and Pakistan continue to slug it out in India. I believe that the term “India Summer” traditionally applies to a summer that lingers late into Autumn. It’s a little ironic that in this case, the summer is running late as we wait for the Indians to arrive. Still, better late than never – something James Sutherland should remember.
It is strange to think that the first Test between India and Australia, the Boxing Day Test, starts in just two weeks time and India is in the middle of a Test match on the sub-continent. I don’t know when the Indian team arrives but the preparation is a three day match against Victoria at the Junction Oval, starting on 20 December. That’s it. Then straight into back-to-back Tests against what should be a well rested Australian team.
The last time Australia played a summer without both Warne and McGrath was the summer of 2003-04 and there were four Tests against India. India scored 409, 523, 366 and 7/705. The Australians chased leather to a tune not matched before or since over a 15 year period. It is true that the matches were played on batsman friendly pitches that were dominating world cricket at that time, and the Aussies scored almost as many runs and the series was drawn 1 all.
The batsman who did the most damage for India in that series was Dravid. However, the other three of the “Fab Four” – Tendulkar, Laxman, and Ganguly, all scored very heavily. Those four are all still in the Indian team, though it has not been plain sailing in the past four years, and scoring heavily in the current series.
I believe that one of the main reasons that India was able to match it wit Australia at home, and more importantly away (i.e. in Australia), was the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly. He does rub some people the wrong way, including, and especially, Steve Waugh but that is the whole point. He added the mongrel and backbone so necessary to bore it up the Aussies. During the lamentable “Greg Chappell years”, Ganguly’s form suffered, he fought bitterly with Chappell (no doubt he rubbed him the wrong way) and was on the outer. I believe that India’s overall performance suffered as a consequence.
But Gangers is back, and with a vengeance – he is having his best year ever with the bat. He will make his last tour of Australia presumably under the captaincy of Anil Kumble. He has just posted his highest Test score – 239 – far surpassing his previous mark of 173, and that followed 102 in the previous Test. He’s bowling too, and taking wickets. In other words, his confidence is up and that will help the Indians. Personally, I think it would help the Indians if he was captain. No offence to Anil – he is a brick – but I don’t know how nasty he is.
And that brings us to the much anticipated clash this summer. Traditionally, India has struggled with the bounce in Australia. In fact, traditionally, India has struggled to win Test matches anywhere other than in India. It is interesting to note that Ganguly’s average in India is just 37 while away, it is 44. I think that says something about the man.
India has easily topped 600 in the past two Test matches. Almost all of the batsmen have been in the runs. You could argue that is good preparation. You could also argue that playing matches with airstrips for pitches, in totally different conditions, is not ideal preparation.
While the Australian bowling attack will be far stronger than it was four years ago, there are some dilemmas. Macgilla has dipped out of contention, leaving Hogg as the only other spinner with any chance. And Hogg has had some sort of mishap biting his nails or something. The selectors have hinted that on some pitches, a four pronged pace attack will be an option. I would hope that goes without saying. But is the MCG going to be such a pitch? The MCG will use a drop-in pitch for the Test and there are concerns that it will be low and slow. Ripper. Perhaps the West Indies mantra of the eighties and nineties is worth consideration. I heard this from Ian Chappell. About 97 times over the past 10 years. And this is it: That you play your best four bowlers, whatever flavour they are and disregard the pitch.
Before moving on, a couple of points:
At stumps on day three, Pakistan are 5/369 chasing 626. The 369 includes a staggering 70 sundries (or extras) and that 70 includes an astounding 31 byes.
England is fighting it out in the second test against Sri Lanka, trying to square the series. Special mention to Kumar Sangakkara. Following his magnificent 192 against Australia, he managed to trump Murali in his big match. Murali took six and three-for, including wiping the tail at the death and broke the world record on home soil, and Sangakkara still managed to steal the man of the match award. That takes some doing. He made 92 (out of 188) and 152 to guide Sri Lanka to victory. What a guy.