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By Partab Ramchand
Australia and South Africa are the only countries where India has never won a Test series. The inability to accomplish the feat in Australia hurts more simply because Indian teams have been there on nine tours since 1947-48 while there have been only five trips to South Africa since 1992-93. It is widely perceived that Dhoni’s squad now in Australia has the best chance to set the record right.
There are several reasons for this with the most significant one being a negative one – the disarray in the Aussie ranks thanks to injuries, lack of form and retirement of several stalwarts that has seen them slide from undisputed leaders to No 4 in the ICC rankings. Indeed for the first time since rankings started India are in Australia ahead of the hosts. Being dismissed for 47 against South Africa and going down to New Zealand at home for the first time since 1985 are clear signs that all is not well in the Aussie ranks.
And yet no Australian team can be written off. When cornered no team can put up a fight like they can put up. One has only to go back to 1985-86 to fully appreciate this. The Australians then were a weak lot. They were in the midst of the rebuilding process following the retirements of several greats. They were getting whacked by every team. England won two contests running, New Zealand defeated them at home and away, West Indies ran roughshod over them everywhere.
And yet Allan Border’s emaciated side held their own against India drawing all three Tests, two of which India should have won but couldn’t thanks to various factors the major one being the resilient qualities of the Aussies. However under cooked an Australian team may appear to be their fighting qualities are second to one and this is the major reason why they have enjoyed such a lofty reputation in international cricket over the years.
Which is why the Indians will have to guard against even a semblance of complacency. The bookies have installed Dhoni’s squad as favourites but the tourists would do well not to regard this too seriously. After all, to be candid the Indians have certain inherent weaknesses and this chiefly concerns the bowling both pace and spin. The former department always seems to be affected with injured bowlers while inexperience is a factor in the latter. The batting as always wears a formidable look and it will be next to impossible for the current Aussie line-up bowl them out. But then the same can be said about the Indian bowling the chinks in the Aussie batting armour notwithstanding.
Yes, chinks there are aplenty in the Aussie ranks as the two recent contests against South Africa and New Zealand have almost dramatically illustrated. Injuries to key players as well as the lack of form displayed by a couple of other important personnel have put them in a precarious position. The Aussies seemed to have discovered two excellent new ball talents in James Pattinson and Pat Cummins. In the absence of the latter through injury and with Mitchell Johnson unavailable for the same reason the pace bowling attack – always the Aussies’ potent force – wears an thin look. Ryan Harris also is not available forcing the selectors to fall back upon Ben Hilfenhaus to lend some experience to a rather raw bowling line-up. Most depressing is the fact that Shane Watson too has not recovered from injury for the all rounder who has made giant strides lately could prove to be handful for the Indians.
So there are both batting and bowling worries for the hosts. For the Indians there are only bowling worries. Is Zaheer Khan fully fit? Will Ishant Sharma be ready for Melbourne? Do Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav have the firepower to unsettle the Aussies? Do Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have the skills to bemuse the opponents? It is with good reason that several greats have expressed doubts whether India’s bowling has the capabilities to trouble the Aussie batsmen.
So it can be seen that both teams have problems with the Aussies having more than their share. But then they have the home advantage and the knowledge that they have never lost a Test series to India in their own backyard. The onus is on the Indians to shrug off this dubious record. Whether they have the personnel to do so is a moot point. But at the moment they can be more confident than the home team and that is not something that can be said every time about a home series in Australia.