The Australian Open has started, and with a massive controversy. The footy codes start to get excited late January in these parts and so cricket takes a back seat anyway.
When there are two meaningless games to go, after one of the most boring summers of cricket Aussies can remember, it makes it even harder to maintain interest. And, for the sport’s diehards, there are the semifinals and final of the Twenty20 Big Bash League at this weekend.
Maintaining interest in the last two one-day games will be a challenge, after the hosts have run away to a 3-0 lead, for everyone involved – the players as well as the hosting associations.
Knowing well, whatever you do will be only of academic interest, it’s natural that players will struggle to focus and play with the same intensity.
In the fourth one-dayer at the Manuka Oval here on Wednesday, Steve Smith will need all his motivational skills to get his players to again bring their top game to the park, while M S Dhoni’s leadership test will be to lift the morale of his troops.
Smith’s advantage is with addition of David Warner and Nathan Lyon, there will be some hungry wolves who would be keen to join the feast which their teammates have relished so far. Such attitude and desire can very well rub on to others and set up the tempo for the game.
It’s the exact opposite for India, where the fear is of the bad run confusing and demoralize even the guys who are faring well, simply because they just don’t what is good enough. After his hundred at Melbourne, Virat Kohli sounded so confident of finally pulling one back, but at the end of the game he was again left speechless.
The worst hit are the bowlers. Not much has gone right for the pacers throughout while the spinners bore the brunt of the Aussie blades in the two opening games. Failing to defend totals in the vicinity of 300, would have inflicted deep mental scars on the likes of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja. It will take some really good work by a sports psychologist to lift them in inconsequential games.
No doubt the playing surfaces have been flat, but where the bowlers have made it easy for the opposition is gifting away easy boundaries.
India’s worst nightmare will be to bat first again. They sure have no clue what a good total is against this Australian batting line-up which with Warner back in the opening slot looks even more intimidating. Unlike the tourists, they have the depth too. In the first two games, the openers, Steve Smith and George Bailey completed the chase, while in the third, Glenn Maxwell showed how devastating he can be.
On the eve of the game, Warner, reminded India about the momentum being with them. “I think it comes down to actually having that momentum. And chasing big totals down gives you that little bit of added advantage where you’re confident in yourself, you’re backing your teammates, the middle order,” the opener said.
It remains to be seen how the hosts fare batting first, but, Australia hold such a psychological advantage going into the game that Warner declared they will be as dominating while setting the target.
“It’s been spoken about in all three forms of our middle order not performing, but at the moment, our middle order is galvanising so well together that we’re actually chasing these big totals. And we hope that we can do that as well when we are setting a total.”
With a 5-0 whitewash looming large, to salvage some pride, India will have to come up with a plan which can surprise the opponent. The small capacity of the stands at the Manuka Oval can be misleading because the ground is as big as any in Australia with long boundaries on all sides. It’s another flat track, with a reputation for spin – Lyon’s selection being a clear giveaway of what the Australian’s are expecting here. It calls for the return of R Ashwin. But, if he has to get something out of the series, Dhoni will have to come up with more tricks than just attacking with Ashwin and Jadeja.
Especially if India bat first, they will have to experiment. Using Ravindra Jadeja as a pinch hitter could be one option to capitalize when the ball is hard.
Most of all it will be the intensity on the field which will make the difference.