CAN WE DO IT?
Nine months back, I wrote a post - "No Big Deal" on my blog that many of my friends said was overly optimistic. It came on the backdrop of the humiliating defeat we faced against Australia in the league stage of the World Cup where we were all out for 125. People were already predicting thrashing at the hands of England Pakistan, and even Zimbabwe. I disagreed.
Today as people, disappointed by the loss at Eden Gardens in the TVS Cup final, predict a repeat of 1999 on this tour of Australia, i.e a whitewash, I beg to differ. Whether I am proven right or wrong is in the hands of.......or rather the minds of the Indian players.
I am saying that we will do well in this series. Not saying we will win it, but we can at least draw it, or maybe at least win a test match. Again, you never know we might just win it. But I am not sure whether our players are primed for that big a leap. However we can DEFINITELY win the One Day Triangular with Zimbabwe as the third team.
First the test series.
In Australia, one rarely sees matches drawn. They play too fast for that to happen. So most of the time, we can either win a test match or lose. And if we play well enough, chances are that we will win. Sounds so childishly simplistic, right?
People say we don't win matches abroad because we don't have the bowlers to take 20 wickets. Now while this is perfectly true in places like England, South Africa or West Indies, it does not hold true in Australia. Most of the times the Aussies play attacking cricket and it is not the inability of the opponents to get them out that wins them matches. It is their ability to get the opponents' 20 wickets much quicker and cheaper!
Please re-read the above sentence and digest it.
What I am saying is that it does not take a very high quality attack to get 20 Australian wickets. It takes a good quality batting side to ensure that we don't lose our 20 cheaper than them. So in a way, series victory or at least survival in Australia is ensured by good batting and not necessarily bowling.
Let me give you examples. I am ignoring the Bdesh and Zimb series and going to the Ashes last year. Australia won 4-1. In each of the 4 tests that England lost, they had at least one inning where they completely collapsed. These are their scores - 325 & 79, 342 & 159, 185 & 223, 270 & 387. The speed at which Australia plays cricket, anything less than 300 is a score that can be considered an abject surrender. And if you abjectly surrender in even one inning, the difference between your score and Australia's score is too great for you to survive.
Now consider the one test England won. They scored 362 & 452/9 dec!! The Aussies lost by 225 runs!! Imagine a team like England beating Australia at home by such a huge margin. When was the last time you remember India losing a home test match by such a huge margin to a mediocre team?
Going further back, the South Africans in Australia, whipped 3-0. Consider their scores. 374 & 128, 274 & 219, 154 & 452. Again, at least one abject surrender per test.
Now let us come to an interesting stat! The rain-hit 3 test Australia-New Zealand series on 2001-2002, which was drawn 0-0. Leave aside the first two tests which were severely rain hit. The third test which New Zealand almost won had these scores - NZ 534/9 dec AUS - 351 NZ - 256/9 declared AUS - 381/7 chasing 440.
So my point is that you need to bat well! Let us say you make 650 runs in a test. It does not matter what the distribution of your runs is. Could be 400 in first innings, 250 in second. Or 150 in first innings, 500 in second. All we need is an average of 325 runs per innings.
Can we do it? Can the Indian team make 325 runs per innings? It can, but the question is, will it?
Tendulkar is in THE best form of his life. I would expect at least 2 big hundreds from him, and a couple of 50s. He knows he is good enough to bat well in Australia. At times I get the feeling the others don't.
We need one opener to do well, so that by the time Sachin comes to bat, the score is at least 100 most of the times. This is not to "protect" Sachin against the new ball or anything, but to make sure that he is not in a defensive frame of mind when he comes out to bat. We also need one middle order player to get runs. Could be either Dravid or Laxman. Both have been doing decently well abroad of late, so if both click, we will be prettily placed. Both just need to remind themselves that they are in to get 100s as well, not just 50s and 60s while Tendulkar gets 100s. VVS will have fond memories of Sydney as well as Calcutta. Ganguly, I guess will get starts in most innings, like in 1999, and may even get a big one.
The good news today is Ramesh getting 87 inthe first tour match. His return to the side will do us a world of good. In '99, he played decently. He was run out in one, survived the opening spell to get 30 in another, and was retired hurt for 26 in the third. This was against Lee, McGrath and Fleming. He should be able to stick around in a few of the innings. Sehwag got 23. He is a totally unpredictable quantity. However if the Sehwag-Ramesh pair ensures that we don't encounter an 8-1ish type situation in more than 1 or 2 innings, and Dravid then ensures that we don't come to 15-2ish, we should get at least 325 on an average in every innings. And then Ganguly and Laxman to ensure that once Sachin gets out, we add at least 80-100 more, something Laxman has been managing with consistency over the last 2 years.
Now by saying that batting well will ensure survival, i don't mean we should forget the bowling altogether. Australian batting is very strong, but it is not as strong as opposition bowlers make it out to be. The last time we went there in 1999, their scores were - 441, 239/8 dec, 405, 208/5 dec and 552/5 dec. Now look at Agarkar's figures in these innings - 2/86, 3/43, 3/76, 3/51 and 0/95. The first 4 innings are an ideal case study for how a bowler should bowl in Australia. If he can replicate that success and Ganguly can get Zaheer and Nehra/Salvi to do the same, we should have no trouble restricting Australia around 350-400 max most of the times.
The reason Agarkar impressed more than Srinath on the last tour was he rarely pitched it short, but maintained a good line and length, getting it to seam and swing occasionally. He got Steve Waugh out 3 times using this very strategy. Nehra bowls in a line-length-swing manner too. However Zaheer is a bit like Srinath, and may get carried away in the first test at gabba where the pitch is very bouncy. Ganguly should make the bowlers chant "line-length-line-length-swing" for 4 hours before the match. Zaheer has a decent short ball. But it is not so good that he keep bowling it all the times. He has gotten wickets off short balls only when the batsman commits to the front foot and then the ball rears up. If he keeps bowling short all the time, the Aussies will stay on their backfoot and keep pulling him. So he should use the short ball, but diguise it well and use it as a surprise. And it is Ganguly's job to make sure he does so.
All in all, i think we stand a much better chance of doing well in this series than in 1999. And in 1999, we lost not because of bowling, but batting. It is up to Sachin, Ramesh/Sehwag and Dravid and/or Laxman to ensure that we finish the series with our heads held high. The pitches are not too difficult, and the bowling though good is not as lethal as 1999. McGrath is out for the first 2 tests. Lee will be a bit circumspect at least in the first 2 tests, coming back from an injury. Gillespie will be lethal, but McGill, should they select him, will hold no danger.....unless of course our batsmen decide to gift wickets to him.
The Brisbane pitch is fast and bouncy so i think we may just lose the first test. but I am really really optimistic about Adelaide. Melbourne will have a drop in pitch this time, so can't comment, but Sydeny again, we stand a good chance.
Can we do it? Only time will tell. Can't wait for the series to begin.
As I said, I do think we are better placed to win the ODI series in Australia than the one that happened in india, but more on that after the test series. :)