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One down, can Australia do an England?

Last updated on: February 28, 2013 08:59 IST

One down, can Australia do an England?

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Bikash Mohapatra

Australia don't have a quality spinner who can make India suffer. Michael Clarke's team, says Bikash Mohapatra, will do well if it even draws a Test or two!

There are so many similarities hard to ignore.

The reverse Australia suffered in the opening Test, at Chepauk, has made optimists (read Australian fans) and skeptics (read Team India critics) alike predict that the visitors will repeat England's remarkable effort late last year.

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In fact, the captains were asked questions about the same soon after the Test was over. Both Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni, expectedly, and very conveniently, avoided replies, instead responding in monosyllables when pressed further.

It's not that the queries were too negative; it is just that the antecedent had a similar trajectory.

England landed in India having blanked Dhoni's team 4-0 in the corresponding series a year before. The humiliation led to a senior player (Gautam Gambhir) claiming the riposte will be likewise on the turning tracks back home.

Giving credibility to the claim was the fact that the English team hadn't won a Test in India in six years coming into the series. The opening Test in Motera witnessed a comprehensive victory for the home team, the visitors experiencing a batting collapse in one innings (the first) to make things easy for the hosts.

To put it bluntly, it was on an apology of a wicket. Worse was the visitors' decision to go in with a three-pronged attack and a lone spinner, and they paid the price.

Needing a modest 77 to win, India cruised home in just under 16 overs, losing only one wicket (Virender Sehwag) en route. Soon after, Dhoni demanded a rank turner, and got it, for the second Test at the Wankhede.

However, it was a decision he would regret, as England not only turned tables, but also went on to win the next Test at Eden Gardens (Kolkata) and inflict on India a first series defeat in eight years on home soil.


Image: The Australian team
Photographs: BCCI
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Australia hasn't won in India since 2004

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Australia's case appears no different.

Clarke's team humiliated Dhoni and Co. 4-0 when they toured Down Under in 2011-12. Another senior player (Harbhajan Singh) made claims similar to those of Gambhir.

The fact that Australia hasn't won on Indian soil since that history-making 2004 series triumph, bolstered such claims.

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The first Test at Chepauk saw the home team easily overcome the opposition, the visitors suffering a batting collapse in the second innings.

It was another pathetic wicket, one that resembled a clay court more than a cricket field.  Australia went into the game with three quicks, and a lone spinner. Even if the move did not exactly boomerang -- their pace battery picked eight of the 12 wickets they managed -- it wasn't enough.

Needing a paltry 50 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the four-match series, India inched home in 12 overs, losing only two wickets (Murali Vijay and Sehwag) in the process.


Image: Indian players celebrate a wicket during the first Test in Chennai
Photographs: BCCI
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Clarke needs to lead Australia's revival

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England's revival was led by their dependable captain -- Alastair Cook, who scored 600-plus runs in the series, including three hundreds. From what we have witnessed so far, Clarke is more than capable of doing the same.

The English turnaround was affected by the supremely talented Kevin Pietersen, who, having suffered twin failures in Motera, produced a game-changer (186) at the Wankhede.

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In Australia's case, Shane Watson is a player in similar mood. What's more, he failed to make it count twice over in Chepauk.

Lastly, England had a pace attack – James Anderson, Steven Finn et al – that could get some purchase from the docile Indian wickets with their sheer pace. Australia's pace battery – James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle – is very much capable of the same, Pattinson providing some proof of it in Chennai.


Image: Michael Clarke
Photographs: BCCI
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English batting was much better and more experienced

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However, the similarities end there, and the differences become apparent.

For once, the English batting was much better, and definitely more experienced. It won't be an exaggeration to say Cook and Co out-batted India in the series last year.

Australia's batting line-up too looks great, no doubt, but, besides Clarke, Watson, and now, maybe, Moises Henriques, none of the others are confident enough to play on these tracks. It would take a Herculean effort from the likes of David Warner, Ed Cowan and Phillip Hughes for the team to deliver in conditions unconducive to their style of batting.

Besides, in Matt Prior, England had a wicketkeeper who was also a dependable batsman. He finished the series as one of the top batsmen.

Matthew Wade is nowhere close. To be fair to him, he is young and inexperienced. He's talented, no doubt, but to expect him to deliver when the chips are down is akin to hoping against hope.


Image: Australia batsman Ed Cown is beaten during the first Test match in Chennai
Photographs: BCCI
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Lyon was ineffective in Chennai

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Finally, the one factor that clinched the series for England, and something that could make the Aussies suffer. Yup, it is the spinners!

Graeme Swann is the best spinner in the world at the moment. Period. His performance in India – 20 wicket in four Tests – bolstered his reputation further.

Then there was Monty Panesar, who came back from oblivion and shocked the country of his ancestors with a haul of 16 wickets. The spin twins were, without doubt, the most significant contributors to England's success story.

Now take a look at the Australian spin arsenal. It includes a lead spinner (Nathan Lyon) who leaked a whopping 215 runs in the Indian first innings in Chepauk and was clearly ineffective.

Then, there is Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell. Not very inspiring names; are they?


Image: Nathan Lyon
Photographs: BCCI
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Australia will do well if it even draws a Test

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Their pace attack, admittedly a strength, may succeed in giving Australia crucial breakthroughs, but when it comes to picking the bulk of the wickets in these conditions, it is the spinners' job.

Whether they liked it or not, the Indian batsmen had to either respect a bowler of Swann's stature or pay the price. In the case of Lyon, the Indians simply underestimate him and could be forgiven if they treat him with contempt, on the field that is.

Unfortunately, Australia don't have a quality spinner who can make the home team suffer. To put it bluntly, it is the lacking in this crucial department, and that makes it a lost cause for Australia. Forget doing an England, Clarke's team will do well if it even draws a Test or two.

Going into the second Test in Hyderabad with two spinners is hardly a solution. The strategy, if adopted, might just work to India's advantage.

No wonder Dhoni has refrained from making any demands for 'special wickets' this time.

Having learnt it the hard way from the English, India's captain has understood sometimes status quo can do the trick.


Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni chats to his Australian counterpart Michael Clarke
Photographs: BCCI
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