Samir Chopra October 14, 2008

Game on

This Test resembled a boxing match in which each opponent landed a few punches, won a few rounds on points, and created headaches for the judges when it came to calling a winner

The just concluded first Test in Bangalore confirms a lot of my pre-series thoughts: the Australian batting line-up will not be pushovers; their bowling attack lacks some of the punch of old; the Indian batting line-up is still not firing on all cylinders; the Indian spinners have lost some zing; the Indian quicks will be more of a threat than the spinners; both sides' captains are inclined to let games drift and quickly go on the defensive, though Ricky Ponting outshone Anil Kumble in aggression; both captains can't seem to get a decent over-rate happening; India don't generally bat to win matches especially on fifth days; and lastly, injuries will do more to affect the 'Fab Five' than selections.

While Australia's first innings was uninspired at times, they did well to get themselves into a good position. 430 is always good batting first in a Test match. Ponting is likely to be very confident about his chances in the remaining games, which isn't good news for India, while Hussey showed that he is capable of succeeding just about anywhere thanks to his technique and temperament (I have a very hard time getting work done and thus tend to admire just about anybody with a serious work ethic!). Hayden failed but I don't think this will go on forever unless Zaheer sorts him out the way he did Graeme Smith last year in a one-day series. Katich looks solid but could also clog up Australia's attempts to force the pace unless he is willing to play out of character (I'm well aware of the fact that Katich has played some furious innings in Shield cricket). For my money the weak link lay in the trio of Watson, Haddin and White but it's too early to tell how they will do. Certainly Watson and Haddin did well on the fourth day but they were also let off by rather insipid captaincy from Kumble.

It's in the bowling front that Australia will continue to worry. This pace attack is 'McGrath-less', and it shows, especially when it is unable to knock a tail over. And White remains quite raw for now, but he will learn as the series goes along. Still, he will find it hard, and the quicks will have to be disciplined at all times.

On the Indian front, while the top-order didn't score heavily, there were some flashes of form from most of the top six. It isn't clear to me that Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman are back in top form, but every single one of them had an extended knock out in the middle, and they'll be happy with that. However, I will say I did something on the second day that I would never, ever have done before: I went to sleep (at 1AM) when Sehwag and Gambhir were dismissed, and Dravid and Tendulkar were at the crease. Perhaps it was because I didn't expect them to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Meanwhile the Indian spinners looked out of it: perhaps Kumble's shoulder is busted but he's looked ineffective for a few Tests now, and Harbhajan only seems to look dangerous on occasion (mind you, that Hussey dismissal was something else!). The most encouraging news for Indian fans is that we have a dangerous, penetrative pace attack. Zaheer and Ishant looked good, and provide a nice mix of right-n-left and swing-n-pace. They will trouble the Aussies in this series and hopefully, will get a chance to show that India can win Tests with pace at home.

This series also confirmed my suspicion that there will be a fair amount of sniping between the teams via the press. Ponting and Sehwag had their moments before the Test, and Zaheer has now stepped into the fray with his post-match comments. Much as I wish this would go away, it won't, so we'll just have to grit our teeth and bear it.

This Test resembled a boxing match in which each opponent landed a few punches, won a few rounds on points, and created headaches for the judges when it came to calling a winner. It was a draw and that was the fair result. But some of this probing will have some effect in the later tests: weaknesses and vulnerabilities will have been noted, and new strategies charted out. A Test series is a campaign. This encounter was merely the opening battle.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here