India vs. Australia First Test (October 6, 2004) - Preview
Just now read on the news sites that SRT is confirmed to be not playing the first test. I somehow get the feeling that they knew much in advance that he wouldn't be fit enough to play but wanted the Aussies to chew their nails till the last minute. So SRT is out, and one of Kaif and Chopra gets to play.
Also read just some time back that Gavaskar has been appointed consultant for the Indian team for this series. Sounds good to me. SMG is one of the shrewdest brains around in Indian cricket and if u forget his obvious bias for SRT (actually 95% of the country has a bias towards SRT), he is really a smart cookie to have around in a tight situation ... and this series could get very tight indeed.
The opening combination for India is really the moot point now and I guess we won't get to know it till the match starts. I don't know if they will announce the 12 for the match today but even if so, Yuveraj, Kaif and Chopra could all be in the 12 ... so wouldn't help in figuring it out.
Personally I would open with Yuveraj. I am NOT a supporter of Yuveraj opening in tests simply because I think he doesn't have the technique outside the off stump. However, with SRT definitely out of the match, it opens up a slot. The obvious choice would be to push Yuveraj to No. 6 but it also depends on how the team management feels about Kaif. Chopra has showed good temperament in opening the few tests that he has but his lack of big scores will at some point count against him. It is all ok to blunt the new ball attack (and India will be greatly assisted if McGrath and Gillespie can be blunted by their forward line) but in the end, the scores matter too and that is something Chopra has been lacking in till date. He is young in the international arena and has chances to correct this but will the dynamism of Yuveraj overshadow the steadiness of the Delhi opener?
Personally, if Yuveraj has to play, I would always play him in the middle order. Otherwise I wouldn't play him at all in tests ... not yet. But that is a personal opinion. Ganguly has clearly stated his opinion of wanting a test spot for Yuveraj and sooner or later the captain is going to have his way. The thing is where; No. 1 or No. 6? We could all play safe and give the opening to Chopra and the No. 6 slot to Yuveraj but what will we do when SRT comes back in the second test? When the captain has such a bee in the bonnet about Yuveraj being part of the test team, he is going to be there sooner or later. With SRT back, the only spot left will be the opening slot. And hence, my take on this - throw Yuveraj into opening and put Kaif at No. 6 ... lets see what the young man can do with his chances ... that he is opportunistic is a known point in his favour ... he has shown it before in his short career and also by scoring a ton in the practice match.
If Yuveraj clicks, India have a dynamite opening combination in Sehwag and Yuveraj. If he doesn't click, then he will probably go out for the second test as SRT comes back to take the only slot Yuveraj could have taken in the middle order.
Sunny Gavaskar's entry as consultant also puts this thought into my mind - As an opener himself, I have a feeling Chopra is the person Sunny will prefer to open for India. Yes, Wright is still the coach but when Sunny is present as consultant, it is hard to believe he won't be part of the think tank. If he is, I guess Chopra will get a vote in his favour. Another line of thought says - Gavaskar coming in could be to help Yuveraj with the finer nuances of opening because the Indian team DOES plan to open with Yuveraj ... and who better to give some tips and tricks than the best opener India ever had in test match cricket. That is what makes it so interesting nowadays ... earlier, it was just go-to-ground-and-play-cricket ... nowadays with so much of mind games and stratergizing, things become interesting. Maybe it also happened in the earlier days but with the media present in every nook and corner to make public every small piece of news, nowadays everyone knows what games are happening. Kudos to the Fourth Estate.
Apart from the opening puzzle, the Indian team management will also be breaking their heads over whether to play a 2-2 or 1-3 in terms of pace bowling and spin combination. The pitch as shown in various photos is just crying out for spinners but then the third day is probably when the pitch starts to make a difference. With Australia, one never knows - by the third day, the result could already be inevitable. Bhajji and Kumble will be surefire starters and the question is about which two among Karthik, Zaheer, Agarkar and Pathan will play.
My personal take is that Pathan is a sure starter in the 11. That takes up 3 bowling slots and with Patel as the keeper (they won't risk Dravid in tests, never), leaves only one slot among Agarkar, Zaheer and Karthik.
Karthik has just been hammered in the practice match; in case u missed it, Sehwag took 34 runs in an over from him, with five sixes and a four. Ganguly has traditionally not been inclined towards Karthik and that also works against his inclusion; no point in taking a bowler into the 11 and then not bowling him properly. Though the pitch cries out for three spinners, I feel it will be two fast bowlers and the real fight is between Zaheer and Agarkar. Adding to the argument is that when one has two bowlers of the calibre of Kumble and Bhajji bowling together, when would really be the correct time and place to bowl the third spinner? A fast bowler is always an option for a change but another spinner? I think not.
Agarkar has a good record against Australia; it was his good effort that gave us the Adelaide test not long back. Another added factor is that in recent times Justin Langer has been his bunny. Langer is one of the most important cogs in the Aussie wheel and his regular failure against Agarkar should put a plus point for the Bombay Duck. Yes, Langer is only one guy but in this team of greenhorns, his importance cannot be overstated. Zaheer, on the other hand, can be brilliant when at his best but it has been a while since we have seen his best; injuries, reported slackness and attitude (media rumours), and not too much cricket in the recent past might put Agarkar just a touch ahead.
So my line up for tomorrow would be -
It is only my guess but I have a gut feeling this will be the 11.
Talking about the Australians, I read somewhere that Kasper, Warne and Gillespie are certainities for the match and the fight is between Lee and McGrath. Personally, I think McGrath is head and shoulders above any other fast bowler in the world today and if indeed Lee gets the nod over him, the Indian camp will be cheering their lungs out. Lee is fast but we have taken care of him before; McGrath is someone no one in world cricket has really mastered in all the years he has played cricket. But there is an edge to the play in the middle when the foul mouthed Aussie is around; for all his drawbacks as an ambassador for the game, his on field mastery of his own art makes him a must have in any team; even though India might suffer because of his presence, I would rather see him in the Australian team than sitting out. It will be better to beat them with him in the team otherwise the victory will lose some of the taste.
The batting revolves around 4 guys - Hayden, Langer, Gilly and Martyn ... the others are greenhorns (even Lehmann ... how many tests has he played? Age isn't the only factor here). I still hope Langer can be cut short by Agarkar's ball pitching on off and coming in - the same way he got him time and again in Australia. For Hayden, I really don't know because the man doesn't seem to have any weaknesses whatsoever, except the desire to score big and score quick ... handle his sweep shot and u might just get him under pressure. The sweep is something Hayden is a real master of and he is definitely going to try and sweep out India (oh, he does use his feet pretty well ... but when he does venture out, there is always an element of risk in it). Gilly is a terrific batsman but his last tour, except for the first test when he took the match from India and gave it to Australia within one day, was horrific. Just stifle him with spin, spin and more spin ... and hope the turbanator takes care of him like the last time around.
Clarke is an exciting prospect but he still is 22 and making his debut; India has the chance to take him out early simply because of his inexperience. At least I hope so.
After a long time, we will be somewhat on par with Australia in terms of fielding too ... Ok, so Australia will still be superior but we won't be as far behind as we always are usually. Three solid slip catchers in Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag (and here is where Chopra's ommission will be felt - he is a great forward short leg) and two sharp inner circle fielders in Yuveraj and Kaif.
Rain rain go away
Go and bother Guantamo Bay (no particular reason - just that it rhymes)
India and Australia face off in a tense fight
India gonna win 4-0, Yeah Right!!!