This is the third time in as many years that Australia are in India, only to lend credence to the view that matches between these two teams are competitively and qualitatively among the best in world cricket.
Two years ago, it was a seven-match One Day International series won comprehensively by the visitors who were then humbled last year in a series of four Tests.
Although in different forms of the game, the scoreline reads 1-1. What happens now? Form undoubtedly favours Australia. Not only because they are fresh from the Champions Trophy triumph, but also because India’s reputation as an emerging superpower in the shorter version of the game has taken a beating of late.
Australia look better in bowling with Brett Lee looking menacing than ever. He has lots of support and they are sure to attack a line-up which hasn’t scored convincingly in recent times.
The uncertainty over Yuvraj Singh — M.S. Dhoni said on Saturday his left-handed powerhouse is sure to play the second game without talking about Sunday’s series-opener — doesn’t make things comfortable for India. Sachin Tnedulkar and Gautam Gambhir are there, but Virender Sehwag is coming off an injury and Dhoni got a knock on the knee on Friday, although he said he would play. Even Gambhir left the nets after being struck on the helmet by Munaf Patel on Saturday. Despite all their potential, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, and No. 7 Ravindra Jadeja (if Yuvraj doesn’t play) are still to command respect.
In contrast, after being exposed as one of the weak links in the middle-order last year, Shane Watson is shining at close to 1000 watts at the top of the order which has healthy competition between Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh. Ricky Ponting comes next but as encouragement, India might note there isn’t much form or experience after that with Michael Hussey having a bad run. India’s best chance with the ball lies in crippling the Aussie middle-order. Munaf and Ashish Nehra are looking sharp, but they will be used early.
So for India to restrict the scoring and take wickets, the spinners and part-time slow bowlers will have to deliver. Sehwag didn’t bowl on Friday and skipped Saturday’s optional nets. Yuvraj’s absence in that case not just robs India of a robust batsman but also reduces bowling options.
What might soothe India a bit is the flat pitch, which might blunt Australia’s edge with the ball. Batting in that case will be the key and the team winning the toss in all likelihood would like to grab it by fielding first. Like in 2007-08, the first leg of this seven-match marathon is expected to witness some big totals and exciting chases. The T20 crowd sure wouldn’t complain.