Time to Make a Stand

Date: January 12, 2012 / Posted by control

The last time India turned out in whites at the WACA Ground it was in the aftermath of the ugly “Monkeygate” affair at the SCG.

The Sydney Test of 2008 was one of the most acrimonious played on Australian soil with both camps trying to claim the morale high ground after some bitter onfield tête-à-têtes.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, history records one thing for certain – trailing 2-nil in the four Test series, India was able to put the immediate past behind it and clinch a morale boosting win in Perth in the third Test. And it wasn’t just any old win – The loss ended Australia’s world record-equaling 16 consecutive Test victories and it marked the first loss for Australia in a Test on home soil in five years.

It was a mighty performance by India, under the cool-headed leadership of Anil Kumble. Wind the clock forward four years and India descends on the WACA Ground in this series with a mirror-image scoreline – trailing 2-nil.

There has been the odd shot across the bows from both teams in the lead-in with Brad Haddin and Zaheer Khan the principal protagonists. But, unlike four summers ago, India is not fuelled this time around by a them and us mentality or a belief that they are a team wronged. In 2012 every scrap of motivation needs to come from within if they are to turnaround what has been a horror series to date.

There have been too many below par performances in this current Indian line-up, and should they all survive the cut, those that have failed their captain and their country this summer must make a stand.

Once again, Sachin Tendulkar has been India’s most – and really only – batsman to show some ogoing ease against the Australia attack. Despite the immense weight of expectation as to just when his year-long Test century drought will end, he has shown solid form throughout, albeit being unable to post his signature big score, but an average of 56 through the first two Tests is akin to a lighthouse on a dark night.

India hit our soils once again with a much vaunted, if aging, batting line-up, but aside from Tendulkar, the pickings have been scant with the series averages belying the players’ respective abilities – Rahul Dravid (28), Virender Sehwag (27), Gautum Gambhir (25), Virat Kohli (11) and the hapless V V S Laxman (18).

A combination of bounce and movement has brought them undone, as was the case on the tour of England last year. Too many times the Indian team plays on low and flat batting friendly pitches at home where batsmen feast on bowling of various qualities. A place like Australia bedevils them with the steepling bounce.

As former Australian captain Ian Chappell remarked recently, it is far easier for a batsman to adjust to a lack of bounce then it is to all of a sudden have to counter the steepling ball.

Allied to the bounce that the Australian quicks have been able to extract has been some consistent and well directed out-swing bowling – the combination of which has befuddled India’s best.

Once again, the same tune is being played by those associated with the Perth ground. For many seasons of late we have been tantalized with promises of a WACA pitch of old – well grassed, hard, fast and bouncy. Alas, more often than not it’s been a case of more sizzle than sausage. But, all and sundry are tipping a firebrand strip over the next five days. One factor that may well negate the forecast grassy deck is a forecast of another kind. On match eve the mercury hit 38 degrees and the first two days of the match are tipped to have maxima in the mid-30s. With that in mind the green tinge may quickly give way to brown.

Australia has publicly floated the prospect of a four-prong pace attack but that is unlikely given the weather outlook. Ryan Harris will play in place of the injured James Pattinson with Mitchell Starc relegated to drinks waiter, allowing Nathan Lyon to once again provide the main spin focus.

Whilst India’s batsman will be desperate for a change of fortune, Australia is still has its own concerns with the willow. After his heroics in Hobart against New Zealand, David Warner has been in a trough, scoring just 50 runs in his three innings in the current series. Brad Haddin continues to walk a tightrope with his two innings in the series amounting to just 33 runs as his Test average continues its journey south.

A monkey was lifted off Michael Hussey’s shoulders last start with an unbeaten 150 in Sydney, while King Kong decided he’d had enough of living on Ricky Ponting’s shoulders and has taken up residence elsewhere after the former skipper’s 134 at the SCG. But, one swallow doesn’t make a drunk, and both veterans will be hoping that their last innings is the start of an ongoing resurgence.

India produced a mighty effort last time in Perth. For the sporting pride of their nation, whichever XI is chosen for the Third Test must summon the heroics of days past. If not, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be headed to a new home and the prospect of a second 4-nil series loss for the world number two in six months will be very much on the cards.