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Home advantage could be decisive - Partab Ramchand Column
by Partab Ramchand
Sep 18, 2008
It would be easy to take a quick glance at the Australian touring squad bound for India and install India immediately as favourites. On paper the side that came here four years ago looks much more formidable. It isn't easy to replace players like Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist and they formed the nucleus of a team that broke the final frontier and won a Test series in India for the first time in 35 years.

It is always dangerous to underestimate an Aussie side. Moreover they have not done badly in the last couple of years since the superstars called it a day. They still notch up victories regularly, are firmly slotted in the top place in the rankings and the replacements have shown that they are up to the task. One has just to look back at the last series between the two teams 'Down Under' to understand that Ponting's squad is still a pretty formidable force. Australia won that acrimonious four-Test series 2-1 and that side had comparative newcomers like Michael Hussey, Simon Katich, Phil Jacques, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark all of whom are members of the touring squad. And one must not forget that the captain himself, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Brett Lee are still very much around so the team has both youth and experience. Brad Haddin is certainly no Adam Gilchrist – none can ever wear the gloves of the greatest wicket keeper batsman of all time – but in his limited opportunities he has not done badly. And Shane Watson the utility player in the absence of Andrew Symonds could have a crucial role to play.

Of course the detractors might point out that it is one thing to win a series in Australia and quite another to win it in India. And while it is interesting to note that Australia still have a 12 – 11 lead in Test matches played in this country eight of the wins were registered before the 70s when the Indian team was nowhere as strong as it is now. In the last three decades to put the rivalry in proper perspective India have won eight Tests to Australia's four and have won four series to the visitors' one including the one off Test played in 1996-97 to launch the Border – Gavaskar Trophy.

While as I said one should never estimate any Aussie side there are chinks in the armour notably in the spin department. The rookie spin bowler – whoever is chosen – might play only a supporting role. And even if the strength of the touring side is the pace attack it is very difficult to win a series in India with virtually no spin supplement. And if Harbhajan Singh feels that the Indian batsmen are going to have a ball because of the weakness in this department he may not be far off the mark though it could also constitute the start of mind games that always seem to precede any India – Aussie series.

What could ultimately swing things India's way is their awesome home record. Few countries have such a disparity between their home and away records and even though India have registered victories everywhere in the new millennium except in New Zealand the performances abroad are still nothing compared to the record at home. In the last eight years they have lost only one series and that was to Australia four years ago.

Moreover the Indians have a settled look their recent series loss in Sri Lanka notwithstanding. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are firmly slotted at the top of the order and are in form. Wasim Jaffer as a reserve opening batsman is an encouraging option. The middle order - with or without one of the 'Fab Four' - still wears a lustrous look. Murmurs of lapses in form can be discounted. MS Dhoni is a formidable opponent at No 7 and the bowling in the hands of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and any two inform pacers can be counted upon to be among the wickets in home conditions. Yes, we come back to that all important factor – the home advantage and this is where I think India have the edge over Australia even if on paper there is very little to choose between the contestants.
 
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