India will find something strikingly different this time around as they touch down in Australia. On their previous tours in the last two decades, they always found Australia battle ready and raring to run them over.
Not this time, though. The once high and mighty Australia are in a turmoil they have rarely been ahead of the high voltage series. While Australia have been floundering for some time now, the stunning loss to New Zealand in Hobart on Monday has pushed them to 'lowest of the low', as the unsparing Australian media has put it. The loss, first to New Zealand at home in 26 years, has raised the hackles of the former players as well, and they are baying for blood.
While this loss, coming close on the heels of their being skittled out for 47 in Johannesburg a few weeks back, will peg them back psychologically, it will be the least of their problems. The more immediate concern will be the poor run of their key batsmen and the dilemma the newly revamped selection committee faces in finalising the squad for the four Test series starting in Melbourne on Boxing Day.
Punter problems Former skipper Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, the principal architects of the Australian success for varied periods, currently look a pale shadow of themselves.
Ponting, the top order enforcer, has not scored a century for almost two years, and the chorus for pulling the plug on the career of a player regarded next only to Don Bradman is growing. ‘Mr Cricket’ Hussey, who also does not have age on his side, has also looked vulnerable since the bowler-dominated South African tour.
Shane Warne is among the former stalwarts who are fuelling the debate over whether they deserve to be chosen against India.
“Now you've got the situation where he's not performing. So now everyone's going to talk. It’s going to annoy Ricky, it’s going to annoy the team ... it is just the worst scenario possible when he decided to play on,” said the legendary leggie.Although sports-mad Australia are not known to be sentimental, it will still take a lot of courage to drop the two batsmen, Ponting in particular. Besides their track record, it would leave a huge void in the middle order as younger batsmen are still trying to settle in. And it can backfire in a big series.
That’s perhaps why newly appointed coach Mickey Arthur has thrown his weight behind the two veterans. "In my opinion, they have still got big roles to play because we do need some experience within our middle order. The key for us is to get them up firing on Boxing Day, because they are key," the South African was quoted as saying.
Injuries are another major factor. Top order batsman Shaun Marsh is unlikely to be fit for the first Test. All-rounder Shane Watson might just about make it. Teenaged pace sensation Pat Cummins as well as Ben Cutting, another promising pacer, are also in the injury list.
The disarray in the home team's ranks could well be India's best chance to seal their first ever Test series win in Australia.