Unlike in Taunton against Somerset a few months ago, it was a relief to see the Indians get off to an encouraging start in the two-day warm-up fixture against Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI (CAC XI), at least on the batting front. Call me skeptical, but after the humiliation India suffered at the hands of England, a positive start to the tour albeit in a warm-up game is heartwarming. Taking into consideration the Indian middle-order’s current form and the fact that they’ve crossed 300 in their very first tour match, setting up decent totals probably shouldn’t be an issue this time around as the series progresses.
As always, the Big Three will have an important role to play. And the fact that they began this tour with a solid performance is a good sign for the team. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were the top-scorers for India when they last toured Australia in 2007-08, and it will be a huge boost if they can emulate that effort yet again this time, considering the other batsmen chip in with significant contributions. Rahul Dravid, who was India’s outstanding play in the last three series, will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of this all-important series.
However, if there is one Indian batsman who will be keenly followed apart from Tendulkar, it’s Laxman. It is a known fact that Laxman has been Australia’s nemesis since a decade, and their media respectfully and rightfully declared him a thorn in the Australian flesh. The Aussies will have to be all the more wary considering the fact that the stylish Hyderabadi has had a good last home series against the West Indies, apart from the unbeaten fine half-century in the recently concluded warm-up game. His flamboyance is a treat to the cricket-lover’s eyes and the elegance with which he uses his wrist is unmatched. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Laxman, who averages almost 56 against Australia, becomes the highest run-getter for India at the end of this tour, thereby signing-off in style in what could probably be his last hurrah on Australian soil.
The top five positions in the batting line-up have already been taken, and it will be a toss-up between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma for the No 6 position. Kohli has been a part of the playing eleven in the past and has shown the desire to succeed and cement his place. However, he tends to struggle with the short-pitched deliveries and the Australian bowlers will leave no stone unturned to make life difficult for him at the batting crease. On the other hand, Rohit Sharma has been in good knick and oozing confidence and was the Man of the Series award for his excellent performances in the recent home series against the West Indies. He is also a better player of the short deliveries than Kohli. Hence, there isn’t much to choose between these two talented youngsters, but only one can make the cut.
Notwithstanding a solid batting line-up, bowling can prove to be a hindrance. The bowling department will draw confidence from the fact that they managed to bowl out West Indies on most occasions. Nevertheless, the damage during that series was predominantly caused by the spinners on spin-friendly Indian wickets. The Australian wickets aren’t as flat as the subcontinent tracks and it will be interesting to see if the spinners can be equally effective in this part of the world. Going by the statistics from the warm-up fixture against CAC XI, Indian bowlers were certainly made to toil. That does not augur well. The spate of injuries has once again raised its ugly head as Ishant Sharma walked off the field after bowling just 5.3 overs. One can only hope that he recovers in time before the all-important Melbourne Test. Vinay Kumar, too, wasn’t impressive. He will have to hit a good line and length early on in his spell in order to be effective, since it’s a given that he cannot do much damage with his gentle medium-pace on Australian wickets.
Umesh Yadav was the pick of the bowlers, and he will be a key factor alongside Zaheer Khan. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will need to prove that they are equally efficient outside of the subcontinent as well. The current line-up of Australian batsmen isn’t very proficient against spin. Hence, Ojha and Ashwin have the opportunity to put the Aussies in a spin and cement their place in the Indian side as frontline spinners.
All in all, the batting department has shown a lot of positive intent by some solid performances at the top. If the bowlers can shine and draw confidence from the next warm-up fixture before the Boxing Day Test, India will be a force to reckon with as the series progresses.