November 9, 2008

Where to now?

Australia's bowling isn't up to their usual high standards; India are a side in transition, hamstrung by poor fielding



Australia's bowling has lacked balance. The arrival of Jason Krejza will hopefully remedy that © AFP

Australia and India have provided some epic battles in the last decade but where are they headed once this hard fought series is over?

For many years Australia won above 70% of their matches, thanks to a strong and varied attack built around the magic of Shane Warne and the miserly accuracy of Glenn McGrath. Suddenly in India they found themselves with a reasonable pace attack, albeit not entirely suited to Indian conditions, and a spin attack too dependant on a bunch of part-timers. Not surprisingly they were unable to dismiss India cheaply, and there were been serious questions about the whereabouts of the next wicket-taking spinner.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Australia's slow-bowling stocks they still have an extremely strong batting line-up, headed by the brilliant Ricky Ponting and the belligerent Matthew Hayden. Australia are still going to post decent scores, but supported by an unbalanced attack they can expect to endure a few more losses and a lot more draws.

When Jason Krejza made a belated but telling appearance in the series, suddenly the Australian attack appeared a lot better balanced. When you look at the prospects of a team the first thing to evaluate is the attack. A team will not win consistently without a strong and balanced bowling quartet.

This is why India's future, despite an aging middle-order, has seemed much rosier than Australia's through the majority of this series. They have the ideal balance in attack: a left-arm pace bowler who swings the ball; a thoughtful, tall right-armer with pace and bounce; a successful offspinner; and a budding young legspinner.

There appears to be depth in both pace and spin bowling, but India's flaw - and it has been with them for a long time - is the failure to produce a top-class allrounder. Apart from that headache the big question for India is one of timing: is the great batting era passing just as the attack is reaching full potency?

There are signs that India has some viable replacement batting options. In Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir they have a dynamic opening combination that should be around for some time to terrorise opposition bowling attacks. The promising debut of Murali Vijay should give cause for confidence that there's a replacement opener on call for any emergency. He also looked like he could easily fill a top-order batting slot if necessary. If Rahul Dravid doesn't pull out of his form nose-dive, the elegant young right-hander could find himself batting at No. 3.

Then there's Rohit Sharma, who was impressive in both technique and temperament when he toured Australia. Importantly, he's now turning potential into consistent runs at the first-class level and the way is now open to blood him in the Test side with Sourav Ganguly retiring.

 
 
The big question for India is one of timing: is the great batting era passing just as the attack is reaching full potency
 

Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are still displaying good form and they should be around for a while to guide the younger players through the initiation stage. The one major area of concern for the Indian selectors is to find young players who can both bat and field. At crucial times in the current series India had the chance to put Australia away but didn't because of sloppy fielding. No team can expect to dominate without good catching to back a strong bowling attack.

There are a couple of things you know about Australian cricket: they will continue to bat well and their out cricket is generally of a high standard, and they will always play hard for the full five days. A depleted attack will see their win percentage drop considerably from the previous lofty levels, and while Krejza will give the attack better balance, they need to unearth more depth in both genuine pace and wrist-spin.

Unless India address their flaws in the field and the lack of an allrounder, they will continue to play slightly below the potential of a team with a good attack. These sloppy aspects of their play will also stop India supplanting Australia as the dominant No. 1, but the rivalry should still be on-going and extremely intense.

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