October 5, 2008

Michael Jeh

Advantage India

Michael Jeh
Ricky Ponting scored 5 in Australia's first innings, Rajasthan Cricket Association Centre of Excellence v Australians, warm-up match, 1st day, Jaipur, September 27, 2008
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Finally, a look at what Australia’s world will look like after Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist. All three men were ‘once-in-a-generation’ players. Australia were indeed blessed to have them all playing together. Especially when you add the other great names of that period.

That golden era is about to end I’m afraid. The two alpha predators of the jungle are about to face off and that aura of invincibility is no longer the birthright of the next generation of players to don the famous baggy green. Don’t get me wrong – they will be competitive of course and they will probably win more matches than they lose. But they will need to change their hunting style to suit their strengths. There will be change.

The biggest change we’re likely to see is a more defensive and more pragmatic approach in the field. Australia used to pride itself on entering every single Test match with the sole intention of winning it. Playing for the draw was the fallback position, employed as a last resort when every avenue of winning had been exhausted. It was this sort of attitude, combined with a powerful talent pool that revolutionised modern cricket. The only teams that occasionally beat Australia during this period were the ones prepared to adopt similar tactics. England’s Ashes triumph in 2005 was the blueprint that other teams will now need to follow.

South Africa – for some inexplicable reason, they went into each series against Australia with a plan to first secure a safe position and then press on for a win if the opportunity presented itself. Against the top predator, such timidity rarely brought rewards. In very simplistic National Geographic terms, the Aussies were like a pride of lions, taking on prey head-on and making big kills. The rewards were worth the odd botched hunt. The South Africans reminded me of hyenas, highly efficient and tireless, nipping away at the heels, waiting for a moment of weakness and then darting in for a slow kill if the opportunity presented itself.

In India next week, I suspect that analogy will no longer apply. With arguably one of the weakest spin attacks in world cricket at the moment, Australia will no longer have the luxury of attack, attack, attack. Ponting will be forced to employ defensive fields with sweepers in place from the outset. It will be fascinating to see how the team reacts to this new philosophy and to see if affects their natural aggression in the field. It’s going to be a lot harder to mentally dominate the inner-circle when half the fielders are in the deep and someone like Sehwag or Tendulkar are in full flow on home pitches.

It is this facet of the game that will provide some riveting viewing. It will give Australia a glimpse of what the next decade is going to be like until they find another Warne or McGrath. They have been so used to dominating the opposition and creating an aura around the crease which resulted in a ‘bubble’ that simultaneously hypnotised and intimidated. The combined pressure of accurate bowling, great catching and constant ‘chat’ around the bat was a powerful cocktail that had a crippling effect. It’s a lot harder to sustain that pressure in searing Indian heat with the score on 4-320, four fielders in the deep, no close-in catcher and a passionate home crowd egging Tendulkar on with Jason Krezja and Cameron White bowling in tandem.

The Australian batting still looks deep enough to match India’s class but will their psyche be affected by the knowledge that the bowlers don’t have the firepower? It’s easy to bat freely and aggressively when you know you’ve got 700+ Test wickets in the bowling arsenal. The current attack, Brett Lee apart, looks decidedly vulnerable to a blistering counter-attack from someone like Sehwag or Dhoni. Or liable to be worn down by a Dravid epic.

The big question of course is whether India will be comfortable with being the team that has to now make the running instead of reacting to it. Will that affect their mindset? If Australia sense that India are not quite ready to storm the fortress, they might just live to fight another day. Like any lion pride, there comes a moment when the challenger senses a genuine opportunity and this may be one such moment in history. That moment will arrive when the Aussie spinners come on to bowl – India’s reaction will tell us all if they are lions or hyenas.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by eddy on (October 13, 2008, 9:51 GMT)

What has happened to the little master? As Lord Sachin Tendulkar scraps and crawls his way to 11953 (Lara's record) he now finds himself in his 2nd worst run of results in his career. In the injury hit year 12 months starting December 2005 to December 2006, Tendulkar played only a hand full of innings. He went 13 innings without a Test match 50. Since his up-down tour of Aus earlier this year and his poor performances against Sri Lankan that followed he has played 12 innings without a 50.

Is the record on his mind or is this the beginning of the end of the greatest allround international( Test & ODI) batsman of this age?

Posted by waterbuffalo on (October 11, 2008, 9:52 GMT)

I am afraid you overestimate the Indian batting lineup which is aged, stale and over praised. When India has a new batting lineup and boling lineup then there will be a challenge, Harbhajan and Kumble? Please, they are dinosaurs who have not been challenged enough for their places in the team. Same goes for Sachin and Dravid and Laxman..Dinosaurs , all of them. Their time is past. Seems to me , India is the oldest team in World Cricket. And Dhoni is the classic example of a One Day Player who cannot play Test Cricket to save his life. India is going backwards, not looking forwards.

Posted by Sudhir on (October 8, 2008, 9:03 GMT)

I would go as far as to say that it is advantage to india - kumble and harbhajan were ineffective against sri lanka, on pitches where two other spinners totally dominated them.

dont forget how underrated michael clark is as a spinner - winning a match for australia in austraila in the last over.

advantage definitely NOT india- who could not beat south africa at home

Posted by ajay Pratap Singh on (October 7, 2008, 7:09 GMT)

No doubt this series is between the two teams who are going to decline day by day. Both teams having players who have cross their 34 and most importantly they used to be world beaters in their own terms. It is almost certain that after this series a generation of the cricketers is going to change. Undoubtedly it is the last series where some of the finest players all time are going to fight for their place in the history of cricket. Both teams having their own weaknesses. I think Aus is most hampered by the absence of Symond which could be useful not only as a batsman but as a spinner also.I personally think it was only Saymond who denies India a series Victory in last series.Indian batting which looks formidable at the papers having their own problems. Sachin Tendulker don’t have any match practice before test match and he is returning from injury. It may make lot of impact on the fortune of the series.Ganguly is not at his peak as well as Dravid.It is going to be a tough seies.

Posted by Ajay Pratap Singh on (October 7, 2008, 6:35 GMT)

So the fight of the pride has started again between new but not young Aus and a team lead by a 38 year old lion that is not at his prime with the company of fab four. Definitely this time Australia is not as formidable as they were in earlier series but I think they are going to fight hard. It is going to be a battle between Experience Indian bowling attack and Aus fresh bowing attack. India has vastly experience spin combination of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble whereas Aus spin attack with Jason Krejza and Cameron White looks quite novice. In pace department I think Aus have upper hand with Brat Lee, Michel Jonshon and Clark even none having any experience on Indian soil. With Jaheer Khan,Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel India attack also looks quite decent but as a whole Aussies having batter variety. I think the result of the series will depend on the performance of some key players from both side like Hyden,Hussey,sachin,sehwag and most importantly Kumble and Hurbhajan.

Posted by KJH on (October 7, 2008, 0:53 GMT)

This will be a close and exciting series resulting in a very narrow win for Ind, or a draw. Enough talk of batting. Outside of Sehwag, India is struggling. Their middle order is no longer feared, Gambhir looks promising, but Dhoni hasn't really stood up in tests as yet. I still feel Aus have the better batting line up, even with Pontings injury/troubles & Haydos injury. This series will be decided by the bowlers and that is very exciting. India have great talent in their pace bowlers (I hope Sharma is back to full fitness) and Singh always bowls well against us. But even without a spinner Aus have a great attack. Clarks record after 18 matches is better than McGraths (which was excellent) and he showed again during the warm-up how good he is. Johnson looks to be coming into form, and Lee is the premiere fast bowler in modern cricket. This attack is as good if not better than the 04/05 attack of mcgrath/kasper/gillespie. If only Warne would come out of retirement.

Posted by vijay padmanabhan on (October 6, 2008, 16:46 GMT)

Well i kinda hate to make series predictions against australia, going by the paper form, india think they start as clear favourites but the form of Australians against board president's cant be used as a benchmark. As eevry cricket fan knows,aussies revel in big match situations.They were trashed in Newzealand before the world cup but thrased everyone to win the world cup. Let the game begin and let the focus be on cricket alone this time

Posted by Aussie Din ks on (October 6, 2008, 7:17 GMT)

England did not make a blue print it is the Media again hyping everything up to extremes. They won one Ashes and all of a sudden they are world beaters and just recently they managed to win their one dayer's against South Africa so of course they are the team to be reckoned with. Of course the author along with the Brits actually forgot that they actually lost the test match to South Africa playing in England. Give it a rest please until after you have played India in India and then we will see just how delusional you people really are.

Posted by Sillypoint on (October 6, 2008, 4:09 GMT)

If England made the Blueprint to beat the Aussies then why the English got thrashed in the following Ashes in Australia. Did they forget to take it or lost on the way? Nobody can make any blueprint for beating anyone. It all depends on the team composition, fire and zeal that determine any series. Having said that this is going to be a close series, I predict India to win 2-1.

Posted by Kalyan on (October 6, 2008, 3:57 GMT)

It must be remembered that while England beat Australia only once in 2005 at home, India defeated Australia in 1996, 1998, 2001 and gave them a bloody nose in 2003, 2004 and 2007. This includes wins in Australia and that too Perth where no one gave them any hope given the mental pressure and controversies. To come back from that to win has already proven that they are real lions irrespective of the result of the current series. They certainly do not need a blueprint from England especially considering that India beat England in England as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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