The first Test between India and Australia is shaping up as a classic confrontation between spin and pace, not just a test of philosophies and battle of wills but each team playing to their respective strengths.
Australia have constantly referred to their bowlers relying
heavily on reverse swing and the batsmen attacking the India spinners. They better hope the new cherry also provides a bit of movement, otherwise a typical Virender Sehwag opening onslaught might make any swing with the old ball superfluous.
This is where Mitchell Starc will play a crucial role. He swings the ball into the right handers, which is the delivery that can cause Sehwag problems. The audacious right-hander delights in a bit of width and crashing balls through and over the off-side field. However, he's more cramped against in-swing, which can leave him vulnerable to bowled or leg before dismissals.
Australia have defiantly spoken of attacking the India spinners. This is a laudable sentiment and it may well work if Mahendra Singh Dhoni captains like he did in Australia - with seemingly minimal interest in taking wickets but rather sitting back and waiting for them to be gifted. If he again leads in that vein, Australia are likely to score enough runs to render the reliance on reverse swing plausible.
If however, Dhoni and the India spinners hold their nerve, Australia's aggression could see them self-destruct. It is one thing to decide on an attacking approach but it's hopeful in the extreme to expect to be successful without the required complementary survival techniques.
The aim in any cricket match is to manoeuvre the odds in your favour, no matter how slightly. By opting for a batting order with Shane Watson at four and Michael Clarke at five, Australia may well have tilted the odds ever so slightly in India's favour before a ball is bowled. Watson is best suited to opening and Clarke, as the pre-eminent player of spin in the side, has the technique to cope with the India tweakers by mixing defence with aggression. The earlier Clarke bats in the order the better his chances of shepherding other players through that dangerous first twenty minutes of an innings. In Watson's case, he's more likely to inflict some damage on the spinners if he first encounters them with a few runs under his belt. That's unlikely to happen batting at four.
India have problems of their own - can the spinners dictate terms, can the batsmen score enough runs - but the greatest of all could be, will Sachin Tendulkar be a distraction?
Sachin, a distraction?
In Australia, his quest for the elusive hundredth century impacted adversely on the team. This time it'll be a matter of whether he can start the series with a big score so everyone can relax and not debate his future?
Australia's greatest advantage in the series will be Clarke's captaincy. He's an excellent tactician and if his batsmen produce enough runs to conjure up some magic, he's equipped to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Spin versus pace and Dhoni up against Clarke. It's a series that promises to be an absorbing battle, which will be won by the team whose flaws are least exposed.
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