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February 26, 2001
"Treat fire with fire" is the attitude Sourav Ganguly should adopt in the Test series against Australia to get the better of the exchanges. The reason Australia has done well consistently is because of their positive attitude even under dire circumstances. On the contrary, the Indians have failed to deliver the knock out punch when they have had the opponents on the mat. The series against Zimbabwe was a testimony for that as the Indian spinners failed to bowl their team to victory on a turning track.
Talking of spinners, the Indians have three of them in their ranks but the combined strike rate of the trio is nothing much to boast about. Hirwani has not delivered the goods after his sensational debut and the spotlight will be on him as he makes a comeback at a very crucial time in Indian cricket. The Australians will feel much better as the aggressive leg-spinner Kumble is out of action. Though Steve Waugh has appreciated the inclusion of Hirwani, he would rather prefer playing Hirwani than Kumble.
Ganguly has so far measured up to Waugh on verbal exchanges but the time for reckoning has come. It is a combination of mental approach and good batting which will decide the outcome of the series. As such Ganguly would do better to attack the Australians in every aspect. The moot point would be the combination he is going to field in the first Test. The policy of playing six batsmen, a keeper and four bowlers would suggest that the Indians are defensive which will give the Aussies the upper hand psychologically. If the Indians go in with three spinners and a fast bowler along with six batsmen, then they are highly dependent on the toss, which can go either way. In case the Indians lose the loss fielding only one fast bowler, they will be at the receiving end throughout, as they have to wait for the fourth innings for the spinners to exploit the wear and tear on the pitch.
Considering the performance of the visiting batsmen so far, Ganguly's best option would be to play five batsmen, a keeper along with two fast bowlers and three spinners. Mongia, Agarkar and Srinath can be entrusted with the responsibility of getting some runs, which they are capable of. The option of playing five bowlers will also give the Indians a chance of staying very much in the game even if they are bowled out for a modest total. Moreover the Australians too will have to think hard on their bowling combination. They have only two spinners in Warne and Miller who I believe can be negotiated by the Indian batsmen without too many problems.
It remains to be seen if Ganguly will take up the extra responsibility on his shoulders along with Dravid and Tendulkar by playing just the five batsmen. Ganguly by now should be aware that a captain has to take a stand and also have a stomach for both praise and brickbats, which is dictated by the ultimate results. Another factor to be weighed is that it will be difficult to catch up by coming from behind because the Australians are past masters in retaining any advantage gained.
Regardless of the combination both the captains field eventually in the Tests, the onus will be on the batsmen. The pitches at Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai do help the spinners towards the latter part of the match, it will be important for the batsmen to play at their best. A batting collapse in any one innings is one thing both the teams can't afford. On balance the middle order batsmen of the home side are better oriented to play on the Indian pitches which might tilt the scales in favour of Ganguly's gang. However Ganguly will have a major role to play both as a batsmen and also as the captain, as his attitude will dictate the approach of his team.
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