Australia series is the ultimate finale to India's home season

Ajit Vijaykumar 12:09 20/02/2017
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Players from India and Australia have regularly clashed on the field over the years.

The long home Indian season has reached its final stage and it’s an opportunity for the squad and management to assess where exactly they are as a team.

India have never had such a dedicated season but this time the board decided to invite New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and now Australia for a full campaign of cricket, with a staggering 13 Tests for Indian fans to enjoy.

The upcoming four-match series against the Australians will show if the Indian side has filled any gaps in the team and also provide a glimpse of the bunch of players that will take the side forward, especially away from home.

Against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, Virat Kohli and the management got numerous opportunities to fiddle with the line-up, some instances more forcedvthan others, and now they should have a clear idea about which players should slot in which position.

What has worked in India’s favour is that almost every player and combination they have tried in Tests has worked out well.

Be it Jayant Yadav’s all-round show against England, Parthiv Patel’s superlative effort as the replacement for wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha or Karun Nair’s triple century, the Indians have tasted success more often than not with their moves.

The more established names in the squad have been in great form as well. Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay, Ravi Ashwin, and Ravindra Jadeja have all been on fire, with others chipping in as well.

What is needed now is to have a first-choice team in place and plan the future around them.

The Australians, despite their shocking recent record in Asia, are unlikely to be pushovers. Yes, they have lost nine Tests in a row in Asia and completely overhauled their team at the end of last year but that’s the thing – they have nothing to lose. And the Indian team will know that.

Australian players know the conditions well. Steven Smith, David Warner, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc have played a substantial number of matches in India across formats and know most of the players through the IPL. Also, they are the one team that always gets under the skin of the Indian team, every single time.

While Harbhajan Singh said that even if the Aussies play at their best they can hope for a 3-0 defeat at best, there are certain areas where the Indians do need to tighten up.

Both England and Bangladesh piled up massive first innings totals against India and while their strong batting line-up stood up to the challenge resolutely, that can’t be a template for the future. In fact, during the England series, the visitors dominated large parts of the five-Test clash, which was not reflected in the 4-0 result.

If the Aussies score 400 plus, Starc and Hazlewood can put the Indians under pressure like no other pair has done thus far. That’s not a position their batting line-up will be relishing, no matter what form they are in.

Also, the Indian fast bowlers need to make their presence felt a bit more. That they have maintained their intensity and provided critical breakthroughs in almost all the matches is laudable. But it is imperative they match the firepower of the Aussie quicks.

They need to throw their weight around a bit more as some of them, like Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, will be the main bowlers for India during the Champions Trophy in England in June and need to grab more of the limelight.

India have followed the process perfectly and have worked very hard for their wins this season. No one can accuse them of relying on dustbowls for ‘cheap’ wins.

How they fare against an Australian team that is starting afresh and will most likely attack from the get-go will give an indication whether the No. 1 Test team will stay at that position.

Time and tide wait for none

Indian cricket seems to be in a hurry to move beyond Mahendra Singh Dhoni. After the wicket-keeper batsman gave up captaincy of the Indian team, it was thought he would at least get to lead his IPL side Rising Pune Supergiants in the upcoming edition. But on the eve of the players auction, it was announced that Aussie batsman Smith had replaced Dhoni as the skipper of the Pune team.

According to reports, Dhoni has been asked to make way for a new leader. That an IPL franchise thought an Australian captain would be better than Dhoni is staggering. He knows T20 cricket inside out and is undoubtedly at his best in the shortest format in Indian conditions. But that won’t happen for some time.

At least, Dhoni will get an opportunity to play with even greater freedom in T20s. Still, the leadership episode has escalated quickly and has pushed Dhoni a bit more out of the spotlight. How quickly things change.

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