The Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) caravan arrived at Nagpur. Immediately, Ricky Ponting the Australian captain commenced his complaints on the practice facility! He then realised that the Indians were practising at the same ground and using the same practice facilities that his team was, and retracted to turn his focus on other things to whine about.
Ricky Ponting was, however, extremely happy at having Gautam Gambhir, the highest scorer in this series so far, rubbed out of the Nagpur game.
Ricky Ponting’s problem, however, is his bowling composition. I feel that right from the first Test, Australia’s approach has been negative. The team was loaded with batsmen and bits-and-pieces players. This strategy made less sense when Cameron White, the spinner in the team always bowled after Michael Clarke was given an opportunity! An aggressive strategy at Nagpur, in what will be a must-win game for Australia would be to take Jason Krejza instead of Cameron White. Another strategy that might work for Australia would be to take Peter Siddle instead of Shane Watson. In reality, although he has picked up wickets and scored a few lower-order runs, Shane Watson has looked ordinary as a player. In my view, he does not rate as a Test player. The bottom line is that Australia must take 20 wickets in this Test match. They haven’t taken 20 wickets in either of the 3 Tests of this series thus far!
India may be distracted by the brouhaha surrounding the Gautam Gambhir fiasco. And it was a fiasco and a sham. No other way to look at it in my view.
Gautam Gambhir will not play. He cannot play. I do hope that the BCCI does not hand over a team sheet that includes Gambhir’s name in it — through Dhoni, the team captain.
There are other means that the BCCI can — and must — adopt to shake up the ICC and these means must be put into action right now! More of that later!
Murali Vijay is Gautam Gambhir’s replacement. This is a huge match in which to make a debut. I am not sure if he will be up for it. Personally, I’d have preferred Aakash Chopra. However, I am glad that the new selection committee is forward-looking and forward-thinking. The scuttlebutt is that, just as Wasim Jaffer, Romesh Powar and Ajit Agarkar made the cut the moment a Mumbai Chief selector was appointed (Dilip Vengsarkar), it is now time for Tamil Nadu players to have their place in the sun, the moment a Tamil Nadu Chief Selector (Kris Srikkanth) was chosen! After all, S. Badrinath and M. Vijay are the first two major selection decisions that Kris Srikkanth’s committee has made, and both are from Tamil Nadu! However, this is the realm of conspiracy theorists!
It is reasonable to assume that M. Vijay was pencilled in for the ODI team after his strong showing in the Challengers. Indeed, Vijay has been chosen for the first three ODIs against the England team. The moment the Test team needed a replacement opener, he may have been an automatic choice.
Ironic clock turns full circle for Ganguly!
It is ironic that this Test match, which will be Sourav Ganguly’s last, will be played at what is thought to be the start of the end for Ganguly! When the Australians toured India last, it was at Nagpur — albeit at a different ground — that Ganguly left in a huff on the morning of the Test match, citing an inability to play!
Ganguly will play his last game for India at a new ground in Nagpur. He will hope that the team itself is not distracted by either that or V. V. S. Laxman’s 100th game. It should be just another Test match at the end of which another great will have retired in the footsteps of Anil Kumble!
Who will force the pace in this game?
India does not have to force the pace in this game. A draw will suffice for India if it is to regain the BGT. Australia does have to play aggressive cricket over the next 5 days. It will not be easy. The pitch is red and without a blade of grass on it.
The expectation is that the toss will be extremely important with a “bat first, bat long, bat once” philosophy to be expected on winning the toss. Australia has to use its bowlers more carefully. In my view, Ponting has not used his resources well in this series thus far.
Australia has been far too restrained in this series for my liking. There have been flashes of aggressive play. But truth be told, there has been far more Australian aggression from the mouth than from the bat and ball!
Ricky Ponting will be comforted by the knowledge that all of his batsmen are in good nick. All of them had a terrific game at Kotla and Ponting will hope that they have carried that form to Nagpur.
India, on the other hand do not have to force the pace. On the last two occasions when India could have won the last Test in a series, the team played out boring and frustrating draws! I don’t think I will ever forgive the team for its dull, unimaginative and listless play at The Oval when India led England 1-0 and then by a mile in the Test match itself! In that match, Rahul Dravid was the captain and, in my view, the main culprit who engineered the draw! Similarly, on a dusty 5th day pitch at Bengaluru against Pakistan, India defended and protected a 1-0 lead and declared too late on day-5 to force a result! Seven wickets fell in a hurry, but there wasn’t enough time to force a result then! Anil Kumble was captain in that Test.
M. S. Dhoni is cut from a different cloth though! He is aggressive and will want to crawl all over Australia if he has half a chance.
Rahul Dravid, to me, is India’s greatest worry. He has been known as ‘The Wall’ all through his career. He has been India’s Mr Dependable. In the last year or so he has been less dependable, more edgy, has looked more and more unsure of himself and his place in the team.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rahul Dravid’s problems are all Rahul Dravid. He needs to shake himself, perhaps have a long hard chat with his good friend and ally, Anil Kumble and produce a big one. Already, there are jokes going around to suggest that the “wall is crumbling”. Rahul Dravid will not want to learn that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, had a great fall and other glib statement from the braying mediocrity of Indian cricket (its media).
Rahul Dravid needs to produce a big one and the time for that is now, at Nagpur. I certainly would like to see the Rahul Dravid that ruled Sabina Park in 2006. That was an innings of character, determination and panache. That is what is required here at Nagpur.
Dileep Premachandran writes eloquently about this very issue in CricInfo.
Ponting thumbs his nose at the ICC:
In 2008 alone, two senior judges have heard appeals involving Indian players who were severely instigated by Australian players. In both cases, the independent judges appointed by the ICC have rapped the Australians for uncouth and unbecoming behaviour on the field. Yet, instead of admitting that there is a serious behaviour issue, the Australian captain went into denial-overdrive. Now if that is not thumbing his nose at the ICC, what is?
In the words of Malcolm Conn, “Despite the latest furore, the second this year involving India, Ponting denied it was time for his players to take a quieter approach.”
I would, if I read the reports of Sachs and Hansen!
Now, before anyone points out — like Conn repeatedly does — that Indians have the worst track record and ergo, must be “worst behaved” team, I just shake my head and say “Simple man. Simpler analysis.”
All that statistic proves to me is that the Indians are worst at remaining under the radar!
The damning evidence for me on on-field behaviour is in the reports of Hansen and Sachs! Australia needs to wake up to that and not dig its collective head in the sand. Ponting is in denial and the sooner he rips that “Spirit of Cricket” document and uses it for toilet paper, the better it will be for the trees as well as cricket! He needs to, as leader of this proud cricketing nation, author a more meaningful “Spirt of Ciricket” document; one that has teeth.
Currently, Ponting — like the BCCI — is thumbing his nose at the establishment.
What must the BCCI do?
The BCCI must hire appoint a “Sledge Coach” and announce it to the ICC today. It should be seen as the first team in the world to officially recognise that it intends to seek sledging coaching. It needs to seek to legitimise sledging as an intrinsic and inescapable form of the game. This would include the recruitment of soccer players and Bollywood actors. It needs to do this as a proactive step to ensure that all forms of sledging are stamped out from cricket.
Often the BCCI plays catch up to cricket events around the world. It then thumps tables and flexes muscles. If the BCCI really wishes to do good for cricket around the world, it is time to take some really proactive steps.
That is my view.