And so the Boxing Day Test match is now a day and a half away. Thanks to finaicial considerations and the (non)efforts of the BCCI, India came to Australia with only one pre-Test preparation match. And in this one tour match, only 48 overs were possible! So, despite the spin from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, a badly-prepared Team India take on the might of the Australians in 2 days’ time. Their bowlers haven’t had a bowl in match conditions and the captain doesn’t even know how one of his bowlers, Pankaj Singh, bowls! While the Indian team can not be blamed for the weather — that is the hand that is dealt — the team must look disdainfully at the senior management that runs cricket in India and exclaim “What the ….?“. As with anything in Indian cricket, if the team does well in Australia, it will be despite the BCCI, which, in my view, has done everything it can to deny Team India a fair go at what is regarded as one of the toughest frontiers in World cricket!
Australia is a tough frontier to crack not because of hostile conditions. Most Indian players would perhaps like playing in Australia where they are away from the pressures and crowds that they are faced with in India and perhaps even in England. However, it is hostile because of the in-your-face cricket that the Australians play especially when they are at home. Moreover, the conditions, particulary in Brisbane and Perth are almost unlike anywhere else in the world. But like Australian quick, Stuart Clark says in The Age, India have a wonderful opportunity to make a good start in the series by playing the first three Tests of this series in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, respectively. Agreed India started its last tour well by drawing the first Test in Brisbane. However, weather did play a large part in that game and that helped India draw the match. No doubt, an inspiring century from a certain Sourav Ganguly helped in that match too. However, the bounce of the Gabba track was largely nullified by the weather on that tour.
On this tour, India have a wonderful opportunity by playing its first three games in tracks that could suit India’s game. According to Tony Ware, the chief groundsman at the MCG, the pitch is likely to be a slow turner rather than a green-top that seams around.
So, despite the BCCI, a few things are pointing India’s way after all!
Ian Chappell has said that the best route for India to take in this series would be to try and secure a draw in Melbourne. I tend to agree. This will then open up opportunities in Sydney and Adelaide.
One concern I had in the lead up was that India had not really batted under severe pressure in any of the Test matches in the lead up to Boxing Day. It is quite often the case that backs-to-the-wall batting efforts are required in Australia against the Australians. In my view, it was because of the early inroads and dents created by the likes of Glen McGrath and Brett Lee that a bowler like Shane Warne could show his wily wares to the later-order batsmen. A 50-4 situation is quite possible for many touring teams in Australia. Apart from Kumar Sangakkara, none of the other Sri Lankans were able to stage strong fightbacks in their recently concluded tour. However, that likely-scenario was provided in the Bangalore Test against Pakistan, where India batted out of a 61 for 4 situation to record a healthy score. India can expect similar backs-to-the-wall fights in Australia!
So, who will play in the Boxing Day Test then?
Of the 16 players, we can expect that Pankaj Singh and Harbhajan Singh will sit out the match! That leaves 14 players to chose from! Despite his good/gritty knocks in England, I suspect that Dinesh Karthik will sit out the match too. The singnal was clear when he was not played in the tour match against Victoria! That leaves 13 players.
The choice is clearly between Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag and two bowlers from R. P. Singh, Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan.
Although I would like India to open with Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag, I suspect India will go with Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid, with Yuvraj Singh playing at #6.
Of the pace options, I think Ishant Sharma is certain to play. He is the only right-arm quick in the filtered list of 13 players and bowled brilliantly with the second new ball against Pakistan in Bangalore. He is a hit-the-deck-hard type of bowler and could be a handful in Australia, provided he gets his bearings right. Moreover, with a view to the Perth Test where he just has to play, it would be good to blood him here in Melbourne — I suspect that he might make way for Harbhajan Singh in the Sydney and Adelaide Test matches!
So, that leaves us with a choice of either R. P. Singh or Irfan Pathan for the last remaining spot. I’d like R. P. Singh to play. However, I believe Irfan Pathan will play more because he has played in these shores before.
So the probable team that could walk out to the park on Boxing Day could be:
01. Wasim Jaffer
02. Rahul Dravid
03. V. V. S. Laxman
04. Sachin Tendulkar
05. Sourav Ganguly
06. Yuvraj Singh
07. M. S. Dhoni
08. Irfan Pathan
09. Anil Kumble
10. Zaheer Khan
11. Ishant Sharma
It is interesting to note that, in this line-up, the first 9 batsmen have a Test century to their name!
The toss could be interesting. In my view this could be a good toss to lose for Anil Kumble!