Hard work ahead for India

India's belligerence sets up the series

Outstanding as India's response was to Australia in their much-awaited first Test at Brisbane, the concern has to be whether India might have fired their best shot

Lynn McConnell

December 9, 2003

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Steve Waugh made several telling points in the first Test
© Getty Images

Outstanding as India's response was to Australia in their much-awaited first Test at Brisbane, the concern has to be whether they might have fired their best shot. It's one thing to stand up to the Australians, especially in the first Test of a series, but it's another to come back even stronger for the second, third and fourth encounters.

Even more certain is the fact that if there was any complacency from the Australians before the series, then the lessons of Brisbane will have been absorbed, and they will be better prepared for the second Test. It is difficult to imagine that the loose attitude evident in their first-innings batting will be repeated.

That only heightens the interest in this series. India know that Sachin Tendulkar won't always be the victim of the sort of poor decision he copped on the chin in the first innings, and nor will Rahul Dravid be so easily tamed.

Sourav Ganguly was always entitled to demand respect, but not having performed to his best in Australia in the past, it had not been as forthcoming as might normally have been expected. However, his century spoke volumes, and came after an enforced break during the recent series against New Zealand with a groin injury. To come back so well and to make such an emphatic statement will do plenty for his stature, not only in India, but also among Australians, who sometimes need to be more convinced than others.

Seeing VVS Laxman in such good touch will inevitably raise comparisons with his marvellous form in the last series in India. There is no doubt that when India get their batting together, the world is their oyster. It hasn't happened too often overseas, but it would be a wonderful thing for the game if that were to happen over the remainder of the series.

What will be of concern to India is the way in which the Australians appear to have worked out a method to constrain Harbhajan Singh, the offspinner who caused them so many problems in that last series. He doesn't look quite the formidable figure he did back then, and it is a little ironic that at the time when India's batting seems in better shape, its bowling may be its weakness.

Things will not get any easier in the heat and on the hard grounds of Australia. Zaheer Khan came through in the first innings, but to give his side every chance he is going to have to do it again, and again, and again. The same applies to Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar.

The Australian response to the wake-up call from India was obvious as they went out in their second innings, and that was a clear fore-runner of what can be expected in the remainder of the series. Hayden's assault on the ramparts of history continued with another 1000 runs in a calendar year. What other statistics remain for him to claim? Becoming a member of the 99 club was not one he would have been especially keen on. It was something that India's coach John Wright would have enjoyed - he was twice dismissed for 99 in Tests for New Zealand.

But the brutality in Hayden's 98-ball innings was a reminder of the power he brings to the game, and that India are going to have to subdue him in their bid for success. Again, the line-up of Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh took the opportunity for another sighter of the Indian attack before pulling the plug on their second innings.

And how typical of Australia was the response at the start of India's second innings - two quick wickets for the debutant Nathan Bracken? There might have been little more than an hour to play, but they were making their own point - the prize of our heads is here, come and get it. Just another graphic demonstration of why Australia rules the cricket world.

Lynn McConnell is editor of Wisden Cricinfo in New Zealand.

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