“India has the best pace attack in the world.”
Tim Paine’s words are still ringing in every Indian’s ear. The Men in Blue batsmen have traditionally received the adulation, whereas the bowlers; derision.
After the Boxing Day Test, however, those derisory comments look hollow.
I would to take you to South Africa, when Jasprit Bumrah was making his Test debut. West Indian great Michael Holding said that Bumrah can never be a Test bowler. How ironic as today, Bumrah’s at the top of the mountain. So, even the world never expected our bowlers to come through.
Coming to Sydney, India is the favourite and Australia, the underdog. The Baggy Greens have been shoved into a corner and are bound to put up a fight and India should be geared for the same.
Most balanced pitch of Australia in current setting. On the first day it will seam but not bounce that much. On the second and third, it is a batting paradise and we have seen scores of 500+ in the first innings. On the fourth and fifth day, however, it becomes a turner.
If you bat well then only you can win because bowlers are bound to get you. A defensive mindset rarely works at the SCG. So, it will be a test of temperament rather than skill or pitch.
Australia is in a fix. Their pacers are tired. Mitchell Starc bowled only three overs in India’s second innings is testament to that. In past 20 years, Australian pacers never needed to bowl 30 overs in an innings. Their energy is sapped and it will require a great effort for them to bowl to their efficiency. Pat Cummins and Starc are prone to injuries and inclusion of Marsh was to reduce their workload. Thus, too much cannot be expected from them.
Nathan Lyon had to bowl more than 40 overs in each innings and his body has taken a toll. He is not bending, so the ball is not dipping and due to that his effectiveness has declined. No commentator spoke on the same and that is why Marnus Labuschagne is in the team.
In batting, their worries are much bigger. The Sheffield Shield has seen a lack of consistent scorers. Joe Burns and Matthew Wade had done well, but they were surprisingly not given the call for this series. Labuschagne’s selection has stated the mindset of the Aussies. They simply do not have quality batsmen to replace the current lot. They have accepted India’s ascendance and are just hoping for the visitors to collapse.
Injury issues and collapse in second innings of Melbourne Test must be rattling the Indian think tank. Indians must be thanking their pace bowlers for delivering.
Hanuma Vihari was sacrificed as an opener. The way he played short ball was hilarious but he played 66 balls, nonetheless, and laid the foundation of a great innings. Virat Kohli should select either Pant as an opener or bring back KL Rahul as bounce in Sydney will not cause trouble. Further, Hanuma will be an asset as no. 6, where he can combat spin.
Now Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are well entrenched but Pujara hardly scores in successive tests. If these three fail, India is doomed. Ravindra Jadeja’s batting failures were expected due to the extra bounce. Absence of Rohit Sharma is a big blow. His scores of 37 and 63 were crucial and India won both the tests where he played.
To counter Rohit’s absence, Ravi Ashwin should be part of the team as he can bat against Lyon and with his bowling, he is always handful. In case Ashwin is ruled out due to his injury then India needs to persist with Jadeja as on the Sydney track he will peg at the batsmen and his batting will be handy.
The way Mayank Agarwal batted against Lyon, showed that First Class Cricket is a must for India’s Test players. I will always advocate the inclusion of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav in place of Ishant Sharma and Jadeja. The Indians, however, are not that radical and they will play safe.
Furthermore, Ishant is not fit so that leaves Umesh Yadav. He is a maverick and on his day he can script victory, but he will leak runs. I hope India does not commit an error by including only two pace bowlers as Hanuma is a decent spinner and on a helpful track he will be effective.
In Perth I had written that India will lose in a low scoring match. For Melbourne, I had predicted that India will win or draw but not lose.
In Sydney, if Kohli scores then India is winning. India is superior in both bowling and batting and now they are committed as a team. So, I expect them to win the series 3-1 and create history by being the first Indian team to win a series Down Under.
Let’s wait for tomorrow morning and witness the duel between bat and ball.