The excessive buildup to a sporting contest, which everyone is looking forward to, is fraught with the dangers of over-analysing, that can kill the appetite for the real meal. Yet, for those of us who make a living out of this by pretending to the world we know more than the rest, this is presumably an obligatory exercise. You are doomed if not done and still doomed if done.
When India played England last, excitement laced with tension, combined with marketing gimmicks to such an extent that the encounter was hyped as “The Series of the Century”. The unpredictability of sport, more so of a game of cricket, is such that the end product was a damp squib, depressingly so if you were an Indian fan. In fact, it turned out to be the most “ill-matched series of the century.”
More than the actual play, greater space had to be devoted to the reasons behind the worst performance ever by a touring Indian team to England. The post-mortem of that white-wash is still not finished and its tremors are being felt even now, though India are playing Australia, a pale shadow of the team it once was.
Had England not savagely scarred their leap to the top of the Test ladder, India today would have been savouring the tag of going into the series as favourites.
No one, including the most optimistic Indian fan, can pretend to predict what outcome to expect on the bouncy, though far from menacing, Australian wickets.
Speculations are raging, centered largely on the fitness of India's fast bowlers. Is Zaheer match-fit enough to fulfill his expected role of being the match-winner he can be? Will Ishant's ankle hold and will Umesh Yadav deliver on the rich promise he has shown so far? The answers to these questions are obviously tied up with what kind of show India will put up, strong or poor. Needless to mention that if the trusted, mellowed troika of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, find their reflexes responding well to one more round of grueling challenges ahead, India can look ahead to a rewarding outcome.
Even if all these spokes fall in place, the hub still will be Sehwag's butchering blade. If it is honed well enough to slaughter whatever comes its way, India could well climb the podium for the first time ever in Australia, otherwise….
Well, one can go on and on but with one statutory warning: Forgetting what happened in England in a hurry can be injurious to a soothsayer's health.
PS: We in India are in a celebratory mood on Tendulkar being acknowledged as a greater batsman than even The Don, that too by an Australian. There may well be many more who think the same, without the statistical mumbo-jumbo this Australian has resorted to in proving his point. I refuse to even look at a list which does not figure Viv Richards in the top three, and here he is not even in the top ten!