Tag Archives: Australia

The i3j3Cricket Podcast Episode-1

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Come to India, we will show you

India lost 0-4 to England in England 2011 through poor preparation, a wrong team, a sudden and indescribable inability to play the seaming ball, injuries and overall fatigue. Oh! And the opposition played brilliantly too.

India then went on to lose 0-4 to Australia in Australia. Injuries and fatigue could not be blamed for that loss. India had prepared reasonably well too. One or two players had warmed the bench right through the tour — somewhat surprisingly and with some inflexible obstinacy on the part of team management. But overall, the touring party was perhaps the best that India could have fielded. Yet India had lost. Badly.

The captain, Dhoni was blamed for his wrong selections. Dhoni was also blamed for his ultra-defensive field placings. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Aging seniors in the team were blamed. Two of these seniors subsequently retired.

The team spoke in many tongues on that disastrous tour of Australia. In one of the one-day games, Dhoni achieved a victory with a few balls to spare and with many hearts in mouths. In the press conference after the game, Gautam Gambhir, who had scored 92 in that game, said that the game ought to have been closed off in the 48th over itself. On another occasion, Dhoni responded to a team selection issue and indicated that some of the seniors were too slow and cost the team 20 runs on the field. Sehwag responded to that statement with surprise.

All was not well with the team. Or so it appeared.

Mohinder Amarnath, the then chairman of selection committee, wanted Dhoni removed as captain. The BCCI President, N. Srinivasan, vetoed that decision. Much band-aid was needed, and applied. Much sand-papering was needed, and performed. Much shoving-under-carpet was required, and accomplished.

India looked to rebuilding a tired, aging and weary team that appeared unready for transition. Just as everything else, we do not plan a transition. It just happens. We are like that only. Some felt that the transition process had already been delayed. Yet, India had the perfect opportunity to rebuild at home over a one year period. And India did that through a mix of worthy retirements and good luck through injuries and bad form. Slowly, but surprisingly effectively, under the watchful eyes of a new selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil, the team transitioned.

Ishant Sharma had sledged David Warner in the Perth Test of the Australia series: “Come to India, we will show you,” he had said. Gautam Gambhir, the then team India opening batsman, issued a similar challenge to the Australians and added that India had to prepare “rank turners” for visiting teams. Gambhir and Ishant Sharma betrayed a defensive mindset. They also provided much fodder for the Indian press corps that visited Australia with the India team. The press was more interested in blood, blame and bludgeoning than they were in understanding what exactly was going on with and within the team.

Gambhir was right in asking for “rank turners” to be prepared. I am not sure why there is much disdain for “dust bowls” and “rank turners”. I haven’t heard too many people say, “Disgraceful pitch. Look at that bounce and lateral movement on day-one itself,” but have heard many a person say “What a disgrace! Turn and bounce on day-one itself?” Spinners are as much a part of cricket as pace bowlers are. The game, particularly in Australia, needs to embrace spin as much as it does, pace. Words like “dust bowl” and “pitch doctoring” have been used as pejoratives for far too long in our game. There is nothing wrong with a turning track.

And so, a few turning tracks were prepared to welcome the Australian team. The visiting Australians did not have the skill or the capabilities to cope with the turning ball. Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot.

The captain, Clarke, was blamed for his wrong team selections. He was also blamed for his somewhat strange captaincy decisions. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Immature juniors in the team were blamed.

The point is that just as India needs to prepare more seaming tracks for the domestic Ranji Trophy competition, Australia has to prepare spinning “dust bowls” for some of their domestic games. Dust is not hard to find. And a bowl ought to be available in Australia. Several of the leading talents in the Australian team were badly exposed after coping very poorly with spin, and this showed in Australia’s poor returns from the series.

When India toured England and Australia, there was a sense that there were a few players who had been left behind who ought to have made the team. There were certainly a few players who warmed the bench during those two tours who, perhaps, ought to have got a game. Injury and fatigue plagued at least one of those tours. The real worry for Australia is that the team that they brought over to India was probably their best team. It is likely, therefore, that the rebuilding process will take just that little bit longer for the Australian team.

This is not to say that India has rebuilt the team completely. No. The work has just begun. And as Sameer Chopra says in his blog article, “I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the future of Indian cricket based on one series win, at home, against a team undergoing a transition of its own. South Africa, at home, awaits. But the presence of young batsmen who show a hunger for runs, spinners who show aggression, and most importantly, a winning feeling whose memory will, hopefully, stick around and provide some wind beneath their sails in that land. On its pitches, against names like Steyn, Morkel and Philander, there is sufficient cause to hope that no more inversions of this present score lie around the corner.”

A stern test awaits this Indian team now. However, the 4-0 win over Australia was no ordinary feat. And it was delivered by captain M. S. Dhoni leading from the front in the first Test of the series. In his forceful wake came telling contributions from M. Vijay (16 Tests), Ravichandran Ashwin (16 Tests), Cheteshwar Pujara (13 Tests), Shikar Dhawan (1 Test), Ravindra Jadeja (5 Tests), Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (4 Tests), Virat Kohli (18 Tests) and Pragyan Ojha (22 Tests) and Ishant Sharma (51 Tests). This was a significant series win achieved by the above nine players with a total experience total of 146 Tests between them; one in which a particular player with an experience of 198 Tests hadn’t really contributed much.

Barring the introduction of Ajinkya Rahane, most of India’s selection decisions were good and more importantly, paid off. Will Rahane get the benefit of doubt? Subash Jayaraman thinks he should not. That apart, the right players were picked at the right time. And the right players were dropped at the right time. It would appear that this team now responds to the captain much more than the team which represented the worrying transition between 0-8 and 4-0.

I wish India was heading to South Africa next week; a tour that will separate the men from the boys, wheat from chaff. But we have to endure the IPL and a stunning array of meaningless ODIs before India goes head to head against South Africa. And it will be a while yet before we can say “Come to India, we will show you,” as the next domestic Test series is some time away…

— Mohan (@mohank)

Who’s more ‘clutch’? Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting?

By Ajit Bhaskar (@ajit_bhaskar)

Who is the most clutch among these three legends from our generation?

The Stage

Given the somewhat sensitive title of the post, I tried to think of a lot of emotional, heartfelt introductory content but I failed miserably. But it suffices to say that these three players are the best from our generation, particularly in the ODI format of the game. A couple of folks (Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain) have opined on who’s the greatest among the three ‘modern greats’. Honestly, it is a tough ask to rate the three for each is excellent in his own ways.

I’m not here to ‘rate’ which one of them is the best among the three. What I’m going to address, is each batsman’s ability to perform in the clutch, which is one of the measures of a player’s greatness. After all, such performances tend to ‘define a player’s legacy’!

I am going to compare (statistically), the performance of these three players under ‘clutch’ situations.

Also, it makes some sense to compare these three players in particular because:

  • They have played in the same era.
  • They are all top order batsmen and have spent a vast majority of their careers batting in 1-4 spots in the batting order.

Ground Rules/Assumptions

  • I’m going to restrict this conversation to ODIs alone.
  • Clutch’ is defined as chasing a target. I will try to make things more granular as I proceed further.
  • Only India, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa have been considered for this analysis. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh et al.
  • Only run chases are considered.
  • The pronouns HE and HIS used in generic sentences encompass BOTH male and female human beings. Do not hassle me with ‘sexist’ and other epithets.

A brief note on ‘clutch’

Various images flash across our minds the instant we hear the word clutch. Like Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating “The Shot” against Cleveland (followed by Jordan jumping in the air and then throwing his elbows exactly three times after planting his feet on the ground), Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (I hate Nataraj pencils just for that) and so on. As far as ODIs are concerned, a clutch situation typically involves chasing a target. The pressure that is associated with chasing a target, particularly when two good, competitive teams are playing makes for good drama and excellent cricket. The players who shine repeatedly and consistently under such circumstances become legends of the game.

The reason for emphasis on run chase will become clearer during the course of this article.

The Statistics

These are obtained from Cricinfo directly after applying a filter for ‘fielding first’.

Key observations:

  • They’ve been involved in enough run chases to qualify for statistical analysis
  • Lara has scored nearly half his runs chasing targets!
  • The ‘chasing average’ of all three players is pretty close to their career averages. This suggests that the pressure associated with a run chase doesn’t influence their performance significantly. In fact, Lara (on an average), scores 3 more runs during chasing.
  • All players show the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, i.e. elevated averages when their teams win during a run chase and reduced averages when their teams lose while chasing a target.
  • It’s the extent of this syndrome exhibited by the three players that is quite intriguing.
  • If we define Differential Chasing Average or D = Chasing Average during Wins – Chasing Average during Losses, it represents the degree of discrepancy in individual performance while a team goes on to win or lose. In principle, a ‘legendary’ player is expected to play the same way and produce at a high level regardless of the outcome of the game and the performance of other players on the team. So lower the D value, greater the degree of consistency of a player during run chases.
  • The D values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 19.53, 40.11 and 39 respectively.
  • Let’s pause and ponder over this for a moment. Taking Lara as example, when WI chases a total successfully, he tends to score FORTY MORE RUNS than when WI fails to chase a target. While an average of ~68 runs is fantastic during successful a run chase, that also indicates a lot of variation in performance. In other words, consistency is lacking. The same is true of Ponting (Differential = 39). However, the key difference between Lara and Ponting is that when their teams lose while chasing a target, Lara still manages to score a decent 27.5 runs, Ponting manages only 19 runs.
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, shows the least variation (D = 19.53). In fact, the variation is half of Lara’s and Ponting’s. This indicates more consistent performance during run chases.
  • Lara has the best Chasing Average in Wins by a distance. He scores nearly 10 more runs than Ponting and 16 more runs than Tendulkar during successful run chases.
  • Tendulkar has the best Chasing Average in Losses. It’s is about 13 runs or 67% greater than Ponting’s. He also scores 4 more runs than Lara during unsuccessful rn chases.
 Figure 1. Graphical representation of performance of Sachin Tendulkar (SRT, blue), Brian Lara (BL, Red) and Ricky Ponting (RP, green) during run chases.

 

Cranking up the pressure to ‘ultimate clutch’

While the analysis so far has provided an indication of the extent of consistency of these players, it hasn’t truly separated them as to who is the best among the three. So I’ll up the ante a little bit and crank up the pressure.

I’d like to evaluate these players’ performances under extreme pressure.  In many cases, teams are chasing fairly small targets of 100 or 150. While the task is still challenging, it is not as daunting as chasing a larger target. Say 250.

How do these players fare when chasing targets of 250 or above? The reason for choosing 250 becomes clearer when we take a look at how teams fare when they chase such targets.

Data Acquisition

  • Get the ODI inning by inning list for Tendulkar on cricinfo.
  • Set a filter for ‘fielding first’.
  • Open every single match/scorecard and choose only those where targets of 250 or above were chased.
  • Note the runs scored in each inning under two columns based on whether his team won or lost.
  • Calculate various parameters (Average, average during wins and losses etc.)
  • Not outs are considered as outs for calculating averages
  • Repeat the process for Lara and Ponting. Note that in Ponting’s case, a tied match is included for calculating chasing average.

Here’s how the three batsmen fare:

Key observations:

  • There is a LOT of collective failure! Just take a look at the W-L records. With these legends representing India, West Indies and Australia respectively, they have won ~30, 25 and 40% of their matches while chasing 250+ targets. The collective success rate is just 31%!
  • So, if anybody tells you chasing 250+ is an easy task, just show him this table. Even the ‘invincible Aussies’, who have boasted some of the game’s premier batsmen, bowlers and perhaps some the most balanced sides ever, have failed to win even half the games while chasing 250 or above!
  • Tendulkar’s average while chasing 250+ targets (39.9) is virtually same as his regular chasing average of 40.03. This is remarkable consistency. Lara and Ponting on the other hand, tend to score nearly 5 and 3 runs lower than their regular chasing averages respective, when chasing 250+ targets.
  • Tendulkar also averages the most during 250+ chases. While Tendulkar and Lara are separated by one run, Tendulkar scores nearly 3 more runs than Ponting.
  • The differential (D) values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 10.3, 34.2 and 46.6 respectively.
  • Let me emphasize a bit more on the D values. Regardless of W or L, you can expect consistent performance from Tendulkar. Lara and Ponting, on the other hand, tend to play extremely well when their respective teams are winning, but tend to score poorly when their sides are on the losing side. This is particularly true of Ponting, whose average of 18.5 when the Aussies lose chasing targets 250 (probability is 26 out of 44 games or 59%) or above is quite frankly, poor!
  • WI has lost 39 out of 52 games while chasing 250+. But even under these circumstances, Lara pretty much assures you 30 runs (chasing avg. during losses).
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, gets you 7 more runs than Lara and nearly 18 more runs than Ponting on days when your team is not doing a good job at chasing. This is a very significant difference in my opinion, given the fact that India and WI do not end up on the winning side often while chasing 250+ targets.
  • But when their teams win, Lara and Ponting fire and fare much better than Tendulkar. This is clear from their chasing averages during wins.

Figure 2. Graphical representation of performance during 250+ run chases for Tendulkar (blue), Lara (red) and Ponting (green).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, no matter how high the pressure is, whether the game is being played on earth or elsewhere, no matter what kind of target the team is chasing, Tendulkar provides the most steady, consistent performance. Lara is a gambling man’s pick, while Ponting is (compared to Tendulkar and Lara) more of a hit or miss case. If snoring is a problem, you may need ZQuiet.

To me, this analysis puts Tendulkar and Lara a cut above Ponting. Particularly because Ponting has enjoyed the benefit of better overall teams than Lara and Tendulkar have enjoyed over their careers. But more importantly, the averages of 18.95 during unsuccessful run chases and 18.5 during unsuccessful run chases involving 250+ targets is something I wouldn’t call ‘stuff of legends’.

In a nutshell, if I were to pick one of these three legends to help chase my team a target of 250 or above, which in my book, is a clutch situation given the rate of failure involved, I’d flip a coin. Heads – Tendulkar, Tails – Lara.

Sorry Ponting, you just don’t make the cut on my list. Certainly not in ODIs.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Based on a conversation between @sdayanand and @achettup

A ‘go-kart‘ once ‘flipped‘ over a cuckoo’s nest,
And the frightened ‘bird‘ flew away.
While the ‘fast go-kart drivers‘ were just ‘disappointed‘,
The ‘bird’ was thoroughly ‘embarrassed‘.

But then, the battle-hardened drivers had been around the block a few times,
For them, ‘age was only a number‘.
And with them, a ‘knee-jerk‘ ‘goodbye‘ would be unnecessary.
But, a ‘deep point‘ had already been made…

Alas and Alack! The real challenge was for those watching,
Who needed to be ‘mentally strong‘ and overcome a ‘mental block‘.
For, at 5am, although the ‘time wasn’t right‘,
They needed to be ‘Keyboard Saints‘.

All along, the ‘Bird complained‘ that
The ‘verbal abuse‘ had been thoroughly unnecessary.
Yet, he did get to a landmark, and when he did,
He ‘flipped‘ it and spoke of mothers and sisters!

In the end though, the last laugh was on the bird,
The Go-Kart remained ‘unlucky‘ and we were informed,
That in (some) cloud cuckoo land,
The argument/bird might circle in, on a ‘rank turner‘.

— Mohan

India tour of Aus. Report Card.

It’s your call now.

Another Australian Tour…

I remember having followed only two of India’s previous tours to Australia, and those were pretty poorly done too.

When India toured Australia in that 2004-ish period, I was in school, in my danger zone of my school life – 10th standard. So, naturally, cable television was off, and I had only DD for any news. All India Radio wouldn’t do commentary. So, I’d have to wait till the last five minutes of the news to hear about the score and maybe a couple of clips from the session. I would then devour into the morning newspaper and gobble up two pages full of reports and articles and opinion columns in The Hindu. That pic of Ajit Agarkar, celebrating during his 6-wicket spell, I remember appeared in the middle of the page, and the crease of newspaper’s fold made the photo look awkward. Nevertheless, Adelaide win was reported live on DD News, well celebrated. Steve Waugh’s final test was well appreciated, though it prevented us from the win.

Next time ’round, I was in college, into my 2nd year of engineering, when India went to Australia in 2007/08. It was during the vacation that the Boxing Day test happened, and for some reason, I had missed most of it, watched highlights and got updates on mobile phones from pals who were watching, though. Can only remember Zak’s ball to Ponting, hitting the top of off after the ball from around the wicket seamed away just enough to tease Ponting’s bat’s edge to shame. I was in college for the Sydney test. Friends from around the country had just returned for the new semester. We had a lot of people to blame during the course of the match. You could’ve learnt 20 different swears in 15 languages had you been in that room I was watching the Sydney test. And the tension grew during the final session. My friend sitting next to me said, India playing with 3 wickets to protect, “Machhaan, if a wicket falls now, it will be very exciting!” I could’ve handled one wicket falling, but three was too large an amplification of the jinx. The Perth test was wonderful! Ishant’s my favourite bowler. He, like me is tall. I, like him, am a fast bowler. We both like unkempt long hair. It was a treat watching him bowl at Perth. Zipping the ball in and out. Owning Ponting. The Perth test was the only thing that made me voluntarily bunk a class in college. And the reward was Ishant’s brilliant 10 over spell ending with Ponting’s wicket. It was always coming. A power cut meant we couldn’t watch the end, and we only heard from our friends in other places when India wrapped up Australia’s irritating tail. Another anecdote from that series – Zak stopping a steaming Tait in his delivery stride to waste time and prevent another over at the end of day. That was simply the height of irritation for Tait.

And in less than a day’s time, India and Australia lock horns at Melbourne for the customary Boxing Day test to start the Border Gavaskar series. I have no clue what half the Australian team is. So many new names. My own lifestyle has changed drastically from 5-hours-a-day-class routine to 11-hours-a-day office routine. I have missed so much cricket in the last 4 months that I continue to have the problem in telling Umesh Yadav from Varun Aaron. India failed miserably in England, made up a bit against the West Indies at home. I learn that Australia have been average at best in their last two series ( SA, NZ). So, per me, what should’ve been a marquee series is just another series. A lot of name and fame and history and pride attached to it, but much of a fight in store. There might be some good tests, yes. But if we are calling the recent Australian tests are good ones, in which mediocre performances led to gripping results, that wouldn’t be good on an absolute scale in comparison to what we’ve had in previous tours.

Australian team has been getting a facelift every other series. Bowlers in both teams are getting injured on day-to-day basis. Ponting, Sachin, Dravid, Laxman are all having their last meet, I’d guess. One or more may be having their last series too. I’ve stayed away from most analysis, match-ups, talks, build-ups et all. I don’t want to expect anything now, for, reality is far from my expectations nowadays. This will like the Australian tours before 2003-04, when as a kid I’d sit with my dad on wintry mornings, and just watch the players in white, on the green fields, the red ball chasing away seagulls, and the sweet sound of bat on ball with the voice of Richie Benaud on the mic. I remember nothing from those tours, honestly.

As 26th of December creeps up, I’ve no idea if I’d be locked between priorities. NBA starts at the same time. A lot of switching between channels, or watching on different screens will or might happen, depending upon my laziness.

Here’s hoping this tour is better than what it seems to be.

– Bagrat

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)