After inspecting the pitch at the VCA Jamtah Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, a group of Australians were seen doing something made famous by the Indian team at the 2003 World Cup. Their captain, vice-captain, coach and selector-on-tour Merv Hughes formed a huddle on the ground discussing, possibly, the bowling combination they would choose in a Test they must win to save the series and pride.
In this fascinating contest between two teams in transition, talk before the series focused mostly on whether with an eye on the future, India would see enough to inspire hope. The nation wanted to know just how long would be long enough for some of its players. This series has provided the answer in the case of two players already although it’s still unclear who the long-term replacements for the ageing legends would be.
In an unforeseen and curious way, the series is also about a transition in world cricket. This Indian team has shown that Australia are no longer the force that used to dominate everybody, everywhere. They are still a combative unit which can adapt to trying conditions at least in batting and they have not lost yet. But they have looked lost on many occasions in the last two Tests, most evidently in bowling, which was a not a common sight till some of their big boys quit.
If India win this series, it might mark the beginning of the end of a reign which started in the West Indies in 1995. On way to winning everything after that, Australia lost the odd one but seldom did they concede ground like in the second Test and in the first half of the third. Australia didn’t look this short of options in their two previous away series defeats – in England (2005) and India (2001).
Back to the wall, Australia have seen a ray of hope in the ban on Gautam Gambhir. Ricky Ponting acknowledged how his running between wickets and his ability to hit boundaries gave India rousing starts. “A newcomer (M Vijay) at the top creates an opportunity for us to put pressure on the middle-order,” said the captain, before adding that Jason Krejza might end his wait for a Test cap here.
It was not difficult to guess that the discussion between Ponting, Michael Clarke, Tim Nielsen and Hughes was largely about fielding the off-spinner with a tally of 43 wickets from 24 first-class games against a seasoned lot that has hit a purple patch after being humbled by Sri Lankan spinners. It’s a chance worth taking given Cameron White’s inability to strike, but at the risk of giving away runs.
With MS Dhoni saying that Vijay will open unless there is a “last-minute change”, this is a worry he is carrying into his first Test where he is not a stopgap skipper. To add to it, Rahul Dravid skipped nets because of flu, although Dhoni said he would play. Dhoni was asked whether it was difficult to focus amid talk of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble’s retirement, VVS Laxman’s 100th Test and Gambhir. “We are seasoned enough to understand that we are in a good position because we have played well and that to remain in this position, we must keep doing well.”
With a soft spot appearing at the top of the order, Dhoni’s men might have to do better than what they have because their opponents would try everything to win. For them, a lot more than just losing a series is at stake.