Tenth Time Lucky?

Date: December 24, 2011 / Posted by control

For Indian cricket fans, Test tours to Australia have taken masochism to a whole new level.

Since it first arrived on our shores to face the might of Don Bradman in the summer of 1947-48, India has toured down under a total of nine times without a series victory.

It has come close with three drawn efforts, the last in 2003-04 in Steve Waugh’s farewell appearance. In all, at home, Australia has lost just five of 36 Tests with nine drawn.

Could it be a case of tenth time lucky for India over the next month?

In what is a valedictory tour for Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Zaheer Khan, India has a very realistic chance of breaking its duck.

The sub-plots heading into this series make for an intriguing four weeks.

At the top of the tree is the ever-burning question of the fate of Ricky Ponting. The selectors have gifted him an early Christmas present by maintaining faith in him and naming him in the XI for the series opener on Boxing Day.

It is just shy of two years since he last doffed his cap at Test level to celebrate a three-figure score – since then he has averaged a meagre 27 from 16 Tests. Surely, a similar return at the MCG will signal the death knell to a truly great career.

Ponting has shown a distinct weakness in recent times to the swinging ball, often being trapped on the crease in front as his weight falls to the off-side.

Michael Hussey is another who has failed to come to terms with the threat of swing lately with his last two series resulting in a paltry average of 12.

Countering the moving delivery has been the major focus of the Australian’s batting camp in Melbourne in the run into the series.

In the first Test, Hussey takes on the role of all-rounder, as he fills the spot as fourth seamer after Daniel Christian failed to make the cut.

Whilst his batting of late has been dubious, Hussey’s bowling has proven to be influential when tossed the ball with the scalps of Kumar Sangakkara and Jesse Ryder among his recent victims.

India’s batting again looks formidable with four of the top five – Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ghambir – having all scored double centuries in the past against Australia.

Virender Sehwag’s best versus the Aussies is 195, compiled at the MCG eight years ago. His will be the key wicket at the top of the order as his explosive nature, which is highlighted by a stratospheric career strike rate of could quickly wrest the game from Australia.

He has previously shown a great liking for the fast, true Australian pitches having averaged 59 from his previous series. At his best he makes bowlers look like they have taken water pistols to a gunfight.

One of the more fascinating duels will be fought out between the respective off-spinners.

Traditionally, right-arm finger-spinners have struggled to produce on Australian pitches, especially those from overseas. The finest of the modern era, Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh, both averaged more than 70 in Australia.

Nathan Lyon has been a revelation for Australia, claiming 22 wickets at 25 from his first seven Tests, but taking on the masters of spin bowling will be another challenge altogether.

His counterpart, Ravichandran Ashwin burst onto the scene in the recent home series against West Indies with a haul of 22 wickets at 23 in the three Tests.

Both Lyon and Ashwin will be the target of measured aggression each time they are introduced into the attack. How they handle it will have a big bearing on the series outcome.

One potential Achilles heel for India could be that strike bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are both underdone. The pair must stand-up and deliver otherwise India’s bowling stocks will look seriously inadequate. They will face three newcomers in David Warner, Ed Cowan and Shaun Marsh first-up and need to stamp their authority early.

Likewise, Australia’s pace trio – Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson for the first Test– must be at their best. A recent trend to bowl slightly fuller has paid big dividends with swing again becoming a vital weapon.

The final outcome is a tough one to call. India still doesn’t travel all that well despite its world number one status. As for Australia, a drawn series against New Zealand clearly outlines some of the current frailties.

For mine, I am tipping joy at last for India with a 2-1 series scoreline.

Whatever happens however, it is going to be a lot of fun to follow.