Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Boxing Day 2007: A series preview

A lot of talk in the media has been about how India have done well ahead of the crucial Australia tour. Why, the Indian young brigade is seen as ‘talking’ well too! Well I’m only partly impressed. Talking looks good ONLY when it is backed by the doing. Post T20 success the Indian team has not fielded too well in the ODIs or even the Tests.

I hope they prove me wrong but the Indian lot seems incapable of exhibiting top class fitness throughout any match that lasts more than 20 overs an innings. The concentration wavers, the fumbling / dropping reappears, the bowling intensity tails off and the silly calling between batting partners resurfaces in the latter part of ODI innings. The Indians lost the ODI series against Australia 4-2 (could have been 5-2 but for rain) but won convincingly against Pakistan. People were joyous at an improved performance.

‘Improved’? Well we all saw in the Australian series that Indians would drop an early chance from a key Australian batsman and he would then inevitably ensure a 300-plus target for Indians. As expected, Australians would refuse to return the favour of ‘life’ when they fielded. The Indians continued in much the same vein against the touring Pakistanis. The difference: Pakistan would magnanimously allow lives to TWO Indian batsmen.

We can expect these problems to get more glaring in Test matches. However the beauty of Test matches is that it allows you to somewhat make up for lack of one skill through added brilliance in the other. Middle order batting and Kumble’s bowling are the only areas of cricket where Indians can claim to have Test standard fitness. And relentlessness, one may add. That can cover up a bit for a lack of stamina and fitness amongst Indian fast bowlers. But to expect the ageing warhorses of Indian batting to make up for both bowling and fielding lacunae will be like expecting your 70 year old papa to carry you in his arms midway through a 10 mile walk because your legs are aching and his are not.

Just like Sourav’s men four years back the present group too have to bat gallantly right from the opening stand, bowl decently and catch (if not field) relentlessly to fight the Australian team over the length of the series. The fielders must take the responsibility that their bowlers need not have to dismiss the difficult-to-dislodge Haydens and Pontings twice every innings.

The Australians may be a good fielding side. But their main catchers are ageing, and if put under pressure in the latter halves of Test matches they can give Indian batsmen some unexpected lives. The Indian catchers need not return that favour.

The ravine between a 1-2 and a 2-1 can only be bridged by good opening stands and relentless smart catching from India.

From the Australian angle, the success of their batting is certain and only the extent of that success will be decided by the Indians. Their options lie elsewhere - early wickets or hard work. Their bowling line up look more than likely to do the job. But in case they do not, their batsmen will be under extra pressure to perform. And we all know that Australians can handle it all.

For the sake of engrossing cricket we hope that their talented adversaries live up to the expectations in inspirational fashion. And the two sensational keeper batsmen in either side contribute to a glittery New Year in cricket.

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