Friday, 13 January 2012

India To Get Karted In Perth

India have crossed the Nullarbor, buoyed by two rays of hope: they won here on their last trip to Australia and their second innings batting in Sydney. Of the two, only the second holds much substance for a possible Indian revival. In Sydney, they had lost the game by tea on the first day and all but Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni looked exceedingly ordinary against James Pattinson. In the second innings, aided by some useless bowling on the third evening, when the Australians couldn't keep the ball close to off stump, Gautum Gambhir finally adjusted to the bounce of Australian pitches and carried on to add 68 with a glorious Tendulkar on the fourth morning. VVS Laxman batting himself into form and Ravi Ashwin showed why he is valued as an allrounder.

These were all good signs from a bating line up which has proven rusty and slow to make the change from lower English wickets to even lower and slower home decks and then to the waist high and above bounce of Australian tracts. Bouncers are not the issue. Its the good length balls that keep finding unexpected bat shoulders not ready for the work they have been asked to do and edging to a hungry slip cordon. The fact Melbourne and Sydney seamed more than usual and this experienced batting line up has finally faced Australian pace men who can swing the ball, has also created a climate of downfall.

Comparisons to the Indian victory in Perth in 2008 are erroneous. The Indian pace attack was younger and fitter. Harbhajan was suspended, following the ugly fracas in Sydney but rather than weaken the Indians, it stirred them into action. At the same time, the leading Australian players, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds chief among them, had been been greatly disturbed by the match and by the aftermath in the press. Peter Roebuck had called vehemently for Ponting's dismissal from the captaincy and media debate raged about what had been said and by whom. Matt Hayden, who scored three hundreds in the series, was out injured bringing Chris Rodgers in for his only Test to open with an equally inexperienced Phil Jacques. Australia bought back Shaun Tait after three years for what would be his last Test. The Australians were cocky and ripe for the picking and subsequently lost.

Not so in 2012.

Marsh - 3 runs in 4 innings
Australia arrive in Perth confident but not without problems. 4-659 will always be a convincing score but it needs to be remembered that when the top three handed over to the middle order it was 3-37 and Zaheer Khan had done all the damage. Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were superb ... actually a far bit beyond superb ... but such miracle batting happens once in a decade at best. Ed Cowan, Dave Warner and Shaun Marsh have provided 145 runs in nine innings so far in the series, with Cowan's first up 68 easily the best and Marsh's 0,3,0 easily the worst. Marsh now has 3 runs from his last four Test innings and back or bugs or anything else, he needs runs on his home deck or Usman Khawaja will make yet another return when all else fails.

The biggest stumbling block is the loss of Pattinson. Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle have more wickets at better averages against the India's so far, but it is Pattinson who has provided the grunt. He is the man who gives the Indians sweaty underpants and despite the return of Ryan Harris, Australia's attack has been dealt a blow and India's batting will gain confidence.

There are other problems.

Brad Haddin's big mouthed outburst belongs to another era of Australian cricket and so does he. Had it not been for sheer bad luck and a broken thumb, he would already be gone but the selectors will bide their time and wait for the possibility of corrective surgery and Tim Paine's availability. Haddin's remarks concerning the Indians can't do anything than stir them into action and it won't be the first time his feeble attempts at mental disintegration have backfired. His claims that India would turn on themselves were staggering, not the least because there is no evidence of disharmony and no record of Indian teams self-imploding. Pakistan would be a walk up start for this criticism but not India. Haddin needs to know his papa dams from his pulao.

Australian selectors have always flirted with the four pronged pace attack at Perth. In six of the 38 Tests played at the WACA, they have gambled on four quicks, winning only two. It worked last year against England, giving Australia its only win of the season. Harris and Mitchel Johnson (remember him?) took 9 wickets each. For some reason Johnson got MOTM, yet Hussey made 61 and 116. When India won in 2008, the ploy failed miserably, when Brett Lee, Johnson, Stuart Clark and Tait needed Michael Clarke and Symonds to bowl 39 of the 186 overs.

Ryan Harris to return
It would be dangerous to repeat the policy here. Harris is returning from injury and is prone to more and despite being inspired and instructed by Wasim Akram, Mitchell Starc is still raw and uncontrolled. Siddle and Hilfenhaus can be expected to deliver but it would be a trial to have only half the bowling talent completely reliable. Nathan Lyon would be handy with the Freeo Doctor to assist and he must continue to be encouraged. Too often spinners have been discarded in such circumstances. Shane Warne took wickets here, though not one of his favoured grounds but Monty Panesar and Dan Vettori have had success at the WACA. Probably the most successful was another offie, Bruce "Roo" Yardley, who knew a thing or two about the good Doctor. I'd be sticking with Lyon because it ain't broke.

For India, Virendar Sehwag is past due and the true bounce at the WACA helps him because it takes little interpretation. He must make a score here if India are to claw back a place in the series. Rahul Dravid will enjoy the higher, truer bounce which will help him avoid having his sticks rattled. Bowled one in five times in 282 Test innings, he has had his castle ransacked six times in the last eight. As Dylan and the Wilbury's  sang, "and the walls came down ... never saw them when they were standing, never saw them when they fell." The rest will swing on Virat Kohli, who the Indian leadership have a lot of confidence in. Rohit Sharma continues to be the unlucky man.

Pragyan Ohja
Zaheer Khan made the right call when drawn into the Haddin issue during a press conference this week, suggesting that the Australian keeper should concentrate on his own form and get on with catching rather than throwing. Khan went missing in the last third of the Clarke onslaught in Sydney after making the early inroads. He is low on his former pace but his swing has worried the Australians. He'll need more pace in Perth and may be hammered without it. Inshant Sharma is playing with troubles and keeps giving his best. A gutsy cricketer, he keeps running in and Perth could be his match. India are really missing Praveen Kumar on this tour. He would have been perfect for Perth but with him absent, much has been put on the young shoulders of Umesh Yadav and although he bowled well in Melbourne, he couldn't find a threatening length in Sydney. Like most young touring quicks, he will have to avoid the trap of bowling short at the WACA or pay run consequences. As for a fourth quick, that would be an even bigger gamble for India. The wiser move might to be completely radical and play two spinners. Pragyan Ohja is a classy left arm orthodox spinner, who as recently as the last Indian home series against the West Indies, was opening the bowling and given the traditional Australian weakness against left arm spinners, he would be worthy of inclusion as bounce favours spinners too.

You have to go with your strengths and Ohja looks more likely to take wickets than Yudav.

MS Dhoni got karted
by Gavaskar
The 3rd Test may reveal something about the Indian captain MS Dhoni and his preparation. Preferring to take his players away from the game mid week and go kart racing, he was roundly criticised by former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar. Strange that Gavaskar should take Dhoni to task over leadership. At least Dhoni has never led a fellow batsman from the field, threatening a loss by forfeit, because he didn't like the decision of an umpire. Peter Siddle called it right and it must be said honestly, when he agreed with Dhoni's actions. Players needed to have a relaxed state of mind as well as a well prepared body and technique. Its all very well for Gavaskar to knock the current set up but he never played under the pressure that modern players have to endure.

The match could be closer than first thought might indicate but Australia look handsome and deserve to be favourites to go 3-0 up.