December 20, 2007

More than a Test series

Mukul Kesavan
Anil Kumble inspects the pitch condition, Victoria v Indians, tour match, Melbourne, 1st day, December 20, 2007
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The Indian tour of Australia that's just gotten under way, is historically significant for all sorts of reasons. It's important for India for the same reason as every other tour of Australian has been: it offers us the opportunity to do what we have never done before — beat Australia at home. It has been nearly sixty years since we started playing Test matches against the Australians and to not have won an Australian rubber even once, is, well, feeble. And it's no use saying we nearly beat them the last time round: 'nearly won' doesn't show up in Wisden.

It's significant for Australia because Ricky Ponting's men have a real chance of breaking the record for most consecutive Test wins set by Steve Waugh's Australians. Waugh won sixteen Test matches in a row and the current team took their tally to fourteen by destroying the Sri Lankans over two Test matches. We're going to play four Test matches against them, so theoretically the Australians could have notched up seventeen in a row by the time we get to the final Test at the Adelaide Oval.

I don't think that will happen but given this Australian team it's within the bounds of possibility. If it comes to pass (and as fans of an Indian touring team we should always consider worst-case possibilities) international Test cricket might have to consider letting Australia field a second team at the Test level if only to allow other teams the satisfaction of beating an Australian side.

Even the second-worst possibility, losing the series 2-0 or 3-0, will mark a new low for Test cricket. Never has any team dominated Test cricket as completely as the Australians have, not even the West Indies under Lloyd. The fact that the present Australian team is competing against its predecessor for the record of most consecutive Test wins speaks for itself. One-sidedness in Test cricket isn't best illustrated by Bangladesh playing, say, India; it is increasingly illustrated by Australia on one side and Country X on the other.

There's only one team in the world that has played Tests against Australia in the twenty-first century on roughly level terms and that team is India. The last three Test series between the two teams have been split: one won, one lost and one drawn. Yes, I know, we would have won the last rubber we played in Australia 2-1 if we had closed out the Sydney Test, but, like I said, nearly isn't a number.

Still, the fact that India has been competitive over time is important not just for the morale of Indian cricket but for the Test cricket as a competitive sport in general. You could argue that England's Ashes victory was a bigger event on cricket's Richter Scale, given the history of that rivalry, but a country as consistently mediocre as England was never going to lead a sustained challenge to Australian hegemony and so it proved. There was a time when South Africa briefly threatened to take Australia on at its own game—fast bowling, fielding, aggression—but that was years ago and the robotic brittleness of Graeme Smith's team has been brutally exposed by the Australians.

That leaves Kumble's men gingerly holding the torch for the Rest of the World. What are their chances? If we overcome, as we did on our last tour of Australia, the jitters of the first Test and manage to draw it, I think we have a reasonable chance of splitting the series. Draw at the MCG, win at the SCG, lose at the WACA and bring out the batting heroics to draw the last Test in Adelaide. That's the sanguine but sane scenario. The insanely optimistic one is that we win at Sydney and don't lose at Perth. Everything else remains equal and we win 1-0.

It all hinges on Anil Kumble winning the toss at Melbourne and electing to bat. The two men who'll walk out to open the innings for India could any one of three combinations: Wasim Jaffer with Karthik, Dravid or Sehwag. I think Kumble will open the series with Karthik because Sehwag would be too large a gamble for the first game and forcing Dravid to open to accommodate Yuvraj would feel a bit like pushing your soundest batsmen to open in conditions where you're likely to need his solidity lower in the order. Unless Dravid volunteers to do the job; as I write this, he has opened with Jaffer against Victoria and is doing well. If we win the toss the Indian line-up has the opportunity to make a substantial score and scrap for a draw. If we lose the toss and field, we'll be a match down by the time we get to Sydney, because the Indian team has a scarily fragile bowling attack.

Harbhajan will likely play only the one Test, the match in Sydney, so for most of the time, India will be served by Kumble and three seamers. Three of them are left-arm fast-medium seamers. The two who aren't, Ishant Sharma and Pankaj Singh, are frighteningly green. Either Kumble and Zaheer, the two senior bowlers, turn on the magic with a regularity that's unfair to expect, or one of the support bowlers turns out to be a revelation. If neither happens I can't see how we're going to bowl this Australian batting card out twice with the bowlers we have. And if we come in to bat second with the kind of scores the Australians raised against Sri Lanka, say 600 for 5, our golden oldies will eventually buckle under the strain of playing catch-up.

So we need lots of luck with the coin, consistency from Jaffer, several last hurrahs from the Quartet, inspiration from Ishant Sharma (or someone like him) and umpires who aren't over-awed by the greatest team in the world. Otherwise Australia will get to eighteen on the trot, Phil Jaques could be confirmed as the greatest opening batsman since Gavaskar and Mike Hussey might, in fact, turn out to be a left-handed Bradman. It'll be the end of Test cricket as we know it. So it isn't just the Border-Gavaskar trophy that he's vying for: Captain Kumble holds the future of the long game in his hands.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

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Posted by Andrew G on (January 6, 2008, 11:52 GMT)

Interesting article - but India are now 2nil down. I am dissapointed that Dravid was given out the way he was, (his bat was no where near the ball). India need to go radical to square the series. Drop Jaffer for I Pathan, and make him opener with Dravid. Reason being Gavaskar aside there has never been a sucessful Indian opener consistantly in Australia, (Sehwag could be added to the list but he would have to play well in the next 2 tests). Pathan would then mean that India would have 3 seamers & 2 spinners + part timers like Tendulkar & Ganguly. I rate India no chance at Perth - if the WACA is returning to its former status as the fastest pitch on the planet, (concrete strips excluded). Adelaide is a big opportunity - providing luck goes INDIAs way over the course of 5 days.

If Australia win 4 nil where will their next draw/loss come from?

Posted by ash on (December 31, 2007, 0:53 GMT)

Australia vs. India - First Test

I would like to highlight the over before lunch on 29th Dec 07.

Channel 9's camera's caught Stuart Clarke picking out the seam of the ball with his fingernail. Surrounded by Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds!(Hmm...interesting....wonder if that's why he was so successful....)

There was a nervous murmur as the commentary team went dead at that moment for a few nervous seconds.....only then the stupid cameraman realised his folly and cut that frame out.

Guess Aussies are above the law, and don't tamper balls and "there will be no investigation....."

I saw, and 12 other people in the room saw this including the kids.....crying shame....they don't need to do this to beat the Indians!!!

Posted by krsna on (December 30, 2007, 23:18 GMT)

yes with out sreesanth this attack looks weak, but they said the same thing (myself included) about the england series, how are we going to take 20 wks, without patel, but rp h came good. i said it way back before the 20/20 WC, india will win the test series against australia and we will, i back sharma too come good, with pathan keeping it tight, drop rp and bhaji, in comes pathan and sharma.

melbourne = yes aussies have won

sydney = india win

perth = india win (yes u thin i am krazy, u wait and see)

adelaide = draw

India win Border Gavasker Series 1-2

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p.s - australia is scared of team india, was anyone alse laughing @ ricky ponting's PATHETIC tactics of bowling way outside off stump, i am not talking about bowling channel, on or just outside off stump, i am talking about them bowling way outside off stump, two and ahalf foot outside off.

u got away with it @ da MCG, it's not gonna work again though.

Posted by krsna on (December 30, 2007, 23:18 GMT)

yes with out sreesanth this attack looks weak, but they said the same thing (myself included) about the england series, how are we going to take 20 wks, without patel, but rp h came good. i said it way back before the 20/20 WC, india will win the test series against australia and we will, i back sharma too come good, with pathan keeping it tight, drop rp and bhaji, in comes pathan and sharma.

melbourne = yes aussies have won

sydney = india win

perth = india win (yes u thin i am krazy, u wait and see)

adelaide = draw

India win Border Gavasker Series 1-2

--------------------------------------------------

p.s - australia is scared of team india, was anyone alse laughing @ ricky ponting's PATHETIC tactics of bowling way outside off stump, i am not talking about bowling channel, on or just outside off stump, i am talking about them bowling way outside off stump, two and ahalf foot outside off.

u got away with it @ da MCG, it's not gonna work again though.

Posted by Adam on (December 29, 2007, 13:41 GMT)

India are certainly looking like the second best team in the world at the moment! A 337 run defeat.

Even mediocre England only lost by 277 runs in the first test of the 2006 Ashes, and we were facing Glen McGrath and Shane Warne.

Surely all the jingoistic Indian fans are starting to realize that the hype just doesn't match the reality.

Final question - what do India not have that teams like Australia, England and South Africa have? Answer: young batsmen who have already demonstrated the promise to replace their over-thirties team mates. When Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman are gone, India will be in sooo much trouble.

Posted by TonyP on (December 28, 2007, 0:39 GMT)

There's nothing wrong with supporting your team but that support has to be tempered by realism. I'm Australian but Australia can lose any given match in any given format - they are human. They may under-perform on any given day but overall they consistently try to do their best.

I think that that is something that isn't being emphasised enough. Even if India lose 4-0 (which I DON'T think will happen), as long as they put in their best effort who can complain? Australia lost the Ashes but they used that lesson to strengthen and improve. Losing is not so bad, it happens to everyone, and I'm not saying anyone should be happy when it happens. The sin is not trying your absolute hardest.

Trying to insist your team win every time is unrealistic & counter-productive, it encourages players to worry about things beyond their control rather than focus on their own game.

Posted by Mark Choong on (December 26, 2007, 11:42 GMT)

Cricket Australia would not take the risk of establishing a "2nd" Test Team. Two reasons. The first, most aussies would more than likely cheer the "2nd" Team than the first if they were to meet. Strange but true and has happened in the past. The "2nd" Team would have a very good chance of beating the first as the "intimidation" factor just does not exist

Posted by One Size Fitz Hall on (December 25, 2007, 6:06 GMT)

Manish Ghosh,

Surely you realise that India is the second best team in the world, although they do underacheive. Maybe you should replace Welsh rugby etc with Australian rugby, Spanish/Argentinian football and Rafael Nadal. These examples are way more accurate than the ones you gave.

Posted by Chase on (December 24, 2007, 18:20 GMT)

Teece, it's just you as you can see. Thank you for proving my point!

Posted by Manish Ghosh on (December 24, 2007, 13:25 GMT)

2-0 to India

There is a pleasure in supporting a perennial underdog that only those who support those teams know - Indian cricket, Welsh rugby, Scottish football, New Zealand tennis...occasionally when they do achieve something - remember Chris Lewis at Wimbledon, India 2001 and 2007 (20/20) the feeling does not compare to success in Australian cricket or Brazilian football or Roger Federer.

My feeling is rather that this support - for the not-so-successful - a Manchester City circa 1990s, - is a purer and finer thing than simply supporting the best - a Manchester United at a similar point in time. It is not rational or logical and bringing rational analysis to these issues obscures the purity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mukul Kesavan
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.

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