February 22, 2013

India slight favourites but with more to lose

This series isn't quite like its predecessors in many ways, but it has plenty of young players who could start their journeys to becoming tomorrow's legends

The Australians wear intimidation like wizards do cloaks. It defines them. Without their swagger, they give the impression they have left their spells behind. In their prime years, intimidation set up a lot of wins; often teams entered a contest unwilling to accept that they could win, or even compete. The actual match was only a confirmation of what both teams knew would happen.

But times have changed. This Australian side has arrived in India almost respectful. They are speaking of challenges and there hasn't been a word yet from the Warne-McGrath school. Maybe they realise they don't have the arsenal but it isn't very Aussie to slip up on the swagger. Wizards don't do suspenders.

Just as this is the least intimidating Australian side to visit India in recent times, their players will be relieved to know that up against them is one of the weakest Indian bowling sides in the last couple of decades. Since Anil Kumble arrived in 1990, there hasn't been a weak Indian attack at home. This, though, is a bowling side that was outbowled by England a couple of months ago - outspun, in fact. Even when Derek Underwood, and later Pat Pocock and Phil Edmonds, won England a couple of games, India had spin bowling of equal, or superior, pedigree.

So this series runs the risk of being defined by who isn't in it. No Dravid, no Laxman, no Zaheer, and even a little uneasiness about Tendulkar; no Ponting, no Hussey, no Lee, let alone Gilchrist, Hayden, Warne and McGrath. But don't let that worry you, because new stars must emerge to replace old ones, as those giant names did those who walked before. And that is why I see this as a series of opportunity. There are some wonderful young players on either side who could step into the arc lights.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have already received a fair bit of blog space and a substantial amount of airwaves. And, yes, a bit of newsprint. At Nos. 3 and 5 they have different roles to play; dare I say, even if in slightly hushed tones, the roles that Dravid and Laxman played.

Pujara to Dravid seems a possible mapping. They are men of similar tastes, preferring solidity to flashiness, understatement to the brash announcement, more likely to feature in the sports section than in the glossy commercial supplements. After nine Tests Pujara has 761 runs to Dravid's 679, countered by the fact that Dravid had played three more Tests overseas. It is not a dissimilar beginning.

But by this stage Dravid had just made his 148 and 81 in Johannesburg, a critical event in his development for he embarked on a wonderful run of scores thereafter. For Pujara this is an opportunity to effect a similar take-off, though some might argue that his scores against England point to that already.

By contrast Kohli has had a slower beginning with 891 from 14 Tests at 38.7. You would have expected those numbers to be better, as you would have with Laxman, whose record at an equivalent stage in his career was even less impressive: 405 runs at 28.92, and his first Test century was still some distance away.

As individuals Kohli and Laxman would seem to come from different planets, but I suspect there is similar steel within. Laxman discovered himself, in spite of that 281, in the lower middle order and adapted his game remarkably. I believe Kohli can too, and I look forward to seeing how he bats with the second half of the order in this series.

The opportunities for Australia are strewn around rather more but my eyes will be on the fast bowlers. I have long been an admirer of Peter Siddle's work ethic and his unflagging determination, and I believe it was his spells late on the second day in Melbourne in 2011, and early on the third, that played a big part in influencing the series. I will be watching out for James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc, who, I believe, can draw inspiration from the past; not necessarily from their own countrymen but from two young West Indian bowlers who came here with a lot of promise but not much else. By the time Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall had left India in 1974-75 and 1979-80, they were different cricketers, ready to become a menace for the rest of the world. Those are big names but all big names start small.

Australia come to India with a far more satisfying recent record than their hosts possess, and they will be aware that the pressure will be firmly on India to win.

It reminds me of what Ajit Wadekar did in 1993 when he took charge of an Indian side that, in his words, had forgotten how to win. His recipe was to prepare rank turners against England. It may have seemed short-sighted but it delivered to the young Indian players the awareness that they could win. In the days after that, India didn't win much overseas but at least they won at home. Now India need to remind themselves that they can win against competition that is resolute and skilled. The turner might be one way of doing it.

India start favourites but they have more to lose.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jawahar on February 22, 2013, 22:00 GMT

    Good analysis by Harsha. As an Indian enthusiast I woudl not miss much if much spark does not show up from Indian side. Essentially this side is not particularly good even considering India rarely has a great test side especially from bowling perspective. As Harsha mentioned it doe sprovide an opportunity for some to be stars but it also depends on how much aptitude and interest the young brigade have for tests. The real thing for them is a couple fo months away - I absolutely support them if they feel that way - a good retirement prospect is any day better than so called connoiseuers' delight. What Harsh mentions as 'to lose' is more for the old warhorses - trio of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Harbhajan. Even for them the IPL can be far more attractive, but they really stand to lose qute some shine of what is left to their names.

  • Ashok on February 22, 2013, 20:13 GMT

    Harsha, How do You justify India as Favourites when they lost 10 of their last 17 Tests & the Aussies have lost just 2 of their last 15 Tests? With this record the Aussies are the Favourites.They have a great captain in Clarke, arguably the best batsmen in the World, now. In Watson & Warner they have attacking batsmen whilst Cowan is no rabbit. Indian batting is lacking in confidence & is very unsettled.Sehwag &Tendulkar are out of form & Kohli has an "IffY" defence specially against the 4 pronged pace attack. Pujara did well against England but can he repeat that performance specially under the leadership of Dhoni, who dropped him in last 3 ODI's + gave him a tongue lashing! India needs a new Test Captain who unites the players into a "Team" boyh on & off the field. India needs to pkay as "Team" first + have their best in form guys in the squad.Harbhajan walking into XI with no performance in any class of cricket leads to lot of dissent amongst High performers & a nonconfident Team!

  • sam on February 22, 2013, 15:48 GMT

    @Meety Actually, preparing rank turners undermine quality of spinners as well. Remember Clarke's 6 for 9. He is a decent spinner (in my book as good as Lyon) but not all that good to take that many for that few against that batting line-up who were very good players of spin. In India ideally it should be turning pitches with a bit in it for fast bowlers as well.

  • Dummy4 on February 22, 2013, 13:55 GMT

    Aussie pacers will win the battle against Indian batting whilst Aussie batsman have only Ashwin to dear so advantage Aussies. In addition, I agree that Aussies are more confident under Clarke and will be under less pressure compared with Dhoni who has just lost a home series to Eng. India were hoping to whitewash Eng after losing 4-0 to Eng and now the same scenario but I expect the same result ie a 2-1 victory for Australia and going by the score on Day 1, it seems Aussies will get 350+ and set themselves up for a win

  • Lesley on February 22, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    India, a team in decline and coming into this series on the back of a home loss to England, are favourites to beat Australia, a team on the up and with a confident and progressive leader in Michael Clarke? I think not. At best, I would say this is 50/50.

    To find the biggest single difference, look to the captains. Australia's is at the top of his game, with bat bat and in tactical awareness. He is decisive and pro-active. He commands respect from his team mates both through his performances with the bat and his actions in the field. Dhoni, on the other hand, is struggling. In Tests he is under pressure to perform with both gloves and bat. His tactics can be questionable in the field, often being too defensive at times when a more positive approach is needed and this attitude feeds through to his players. The public and media are quick to turn, even on their biggest superstars and this keeps him on his toes with every decision he makes. I choose Clarke's Aussies as a team to win here.

  • Sherjil on February 22, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    Posted by Emancipator007 on (February 22, 2013, 5:46 GMT): What a point made by you.Absolutely spot on.

  • Saumil on February 22, 2013, 10:36 GMT

    I am amazed to read writers put India as favourites for this series. On what basis do they believe India have even the slightest chance of even drawing a test? India's record in the past 2 years makes it very clear that it is finished as a test playing nation. Indian bowlers will struggle to dismiss 20 club level batsmen and Indian batsmen will struggle to make more than 200 in a single innings. The pathetic state of Indian cricket is exposed when a ordinary spinner like Harbhajan has to be recalled. There is no hope for India in test cricket.

  • Sidharth on February 22, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    @ Harsha . . . . I am great fan of your article. but on this article I didnt like your comparison part.

    No one can be replaced . Neither Dravid / Nor you / Nor me. And comparing Pujara and Dravid after 9 tests is completely unfair. If you look at their performance . . Pujara's three centuries came on home turf, whereas in case of Dravid all his high scoring innings were either in SA, ENG and NZ - Places where India have not been successful. Hence, Dravid has an edge over Pujara.

    Pujara is a talented cricketer and is one of the greatest batsmen India has had in the recent past. He has a long way to go. Comparing him with Dravid in less then 10 test matches is loading him with extra burden.

  • PALLAB on February 22, 2013, 5:46 GMT

    Just want to point out 1 FACT:Indian Test teams under Ganguly were never intimidated by OZ under Waugh's teams and proved that with a 3-2 record over 7 Tests. Before the 4-0 whitewash of last year in OZ, Indian teams fought tooth-n-nail in all series with OZ's best Test teams of recent past. This was similar to Imran's Pak teams NEVER being intimidated by rampaging WI team of '80s and never losing to them in 3 series.

  • Ayush on February 22, 2013, 4:50 GMT

    Good article Harsha. I have been critical of your earlier articles, where it seemed you were partial to either an individual or a team, but from the last couple, you are back to being objective. Hope your analysis becomes true for Indian batting's sake.