Friday, December 23, 2011

Preview- Australia versus India Test Series

While everyone is getting hysterical over Christmas, I am doing my best impersonation of Ebenezer Scrooge in wanting it to just be over. For I want it to be Boxing Day, and the 1st day of the mouth watering Australia versus India Test series. A series that has so many compelling plots and sub plots that will make for riveting viewing.


Duly let us forego our Christmas feast, and instead look forward to what promises to be a knock down and drag them out affair. Which these series have been for near on 10 years now.


Australia


1st Test Squad

Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Daniel Christian, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon

After most of the Australian fans pulling their hair out in the time of Andrew Hilditch's moronic time in charge of selection, the first squad chosen by John Inverarity was very well received by the faithful. The main names missing were the injury stricken Shane Watson and Pat Cummins as well as Ryan Harris, who is coming back from injury. The veterans in Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were chosen mainly because of Shane Watson's absence, and the lack of any Test calibre batsmen at present in Shield Cricket. Though a bad performance by either here will more than likely see Watson replace them in the 2nd Test. The recall of the swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus, who has refound the form that made him a very respected Test bowler adds a potential match winner to an already very decent bowling attack


Batting

In the last 2 years the batting has been Australia's biggest issue with it being characterised by a glut of inexplicable collapses, and a string of low Team totals that have become all to regular to brush of as an aberration.

The bane of the fragility has been a top 4 that has been diabolically bad. This emphasised by the ridiculous decision to drop Simon Katich who had averaged 50.48 in his last 3 years of Test cricket. The only reason for his omission was due to the precious types in the Australian Team not liking his manly ways ruffling their prissy girly men feathers after a dust up with Michael Clarke.

In Katich absence, the batting has lost its defensive rock, and had its balance thrown out with its effect being felt everywhere. Most notable the dip in form of Shane Watson at the top of the order without Katich's partnership to take the focus off him. The names of the technically deficient Phil Hughes and the out of his depth Usman Khawaja have been tried and have failed. Throw in the vastly diminished Ricky Ponting, the sadly out of form Mike Hussey, and the oft irresponsible Brad Haddin at 7 you can see the concerns the batting gives. The figures for 2011 support this

Shane Watson: 11 innings, average 24.09, highest score 88 (1 50)

Phil Hughes: 15 innings, average 26.93, highest score 126 ( 1 100, 1 50)

Usman Khawaja: 11 innings, average 29.22, highest score 65 (1 50)

Ricky Ponting:11 innings, average 26.63, highest score 78 ( 2 50's)

Michael Clarke: 14 innings, average 41.85, highest score 151 ( 3 centuries, 1 50)

Mike Hussey: 14 innings, average 42.21, highest score 142 ( 2 centuries, 2 50's )


Brad Haddin: 14 innings, average 21.57, highest score 80 ( 2 50's)

In my mind the batting is the key for Australia in this series, and it will be helped by the injury concerns for the main men in the Indian bowling as well as the weak nature of the tourists attack.

The Selectors after the humiliation of the loss to the Kiwis, which was facilitated by yet another batting collapse have taken this on board with a focus on the dreadful top 3. The axing of both Hughes and Khawaja gained a standing ovation from the fans as well as the adding og Ed Cowan and Shaun Marsh to the Team. Which means on paper the profound effect that Katich had on the batting has been restored by the choosing of a clone of him in Cowan. A perfect defensive foil for the incendiary attacking force of Dave Warner.Then in Shaun Marsh, who has taken like a duck to water in Test Cricket. Suddenly the top 3 looks to have a restored pedigree.


Shane Watson's likely return to fitness will pose an intriguing Selection dilemma in regards to it will more than likely see either Ponting or Hussey be sent into retirement. As well as Watson reverting to 6 in the line up to fully exploit his attack minded batting away from the new ball as well as his very threatening bowling.

Lastly, Brad Haddin must be sweating bullets with the excellent Matthew Wade being like the bogey man in all of his nightmares, and will need to perform to retain his spot. In truth, if it was not for the sad finger injury to Tim Paine, which might threaten his career, Haddin would have already been gone.

1st Test Rating- 6/10

The retention of both Ponting and Hussey in the Team still provides a huge weakness for India to prey on. As well as the concerns over Brad Haddin at 7

Series Rating- 7/10

After this Melbourne Test it is anticipated that Shane Watson will be fit meaning either Ponting or Hussey will get dropped barring a miraculous return to form from either in this Test match. If that invariably does not happen, you can see Watson coming into the side more than likely at 6 to add a batsman, who is capable of having an effect on the series

Bowling

The bowling of late has been very good facilitated by the remarkable debut series of the fast man James Pattinson. Though with Pattinson, and the recent return to form of the rest of the Australian pace attack on their arrival back in Australia. It needs to be put into context by looking at the New Zealand batting line up they were bowling too. A batting group that were very in keeping with the Christmas spirit with their giving mannerisms to the Aussie attack with a host of very soft dismissals. Also aided by the bowling friendly condition, that more than likely will not exist in this series

So against an Indian batting line up that is viewed by many to be comparable to the best in the games history, the question is whether the Aussie bowling line up is good enough to bowl them out twice?

Doubt is attached to this being achieved with the absence of Australia's best bowler from 2011 in Ryan Harris, and the doubts over Shane Watson's ability to bowl in the series. Throw in the injury to Pat Cummins, that has seen him ruled out of the series as well as the huge doubts over the effectiveness of Nathan Lyon's off spin against the maulers of any type of spin in the Indians.

Then this becomes a huge concern............

The key will be the continued excellence of Pattinson coupled with the renewed form of Peter Siddle. Also the return of Ryan Harris during this series, who has averaged 21.37 in his 9 career Test will be crucial to the bowling units success.

A smokey in this series, and a man that the Indians will have to give the greatest respect to is Ben Hilfenhaus. Who in the Shield this year has shown a return to form with his pace up and his swing being lethal.

1st Test Rating- 6/10

The absence of Ryan Harris, Pat Cummins and Shane Watson from the bowling unit will be exposed by the Indians. I cannot see them bowling them out twice on what is likely to be a very batting friendly pitch. Also the likely neutralising of Nathan Lyons very decent off spin will rob Australia of a key weapon since his debut

Series Rating- 7/10

This increased rating is largely dependant on Ryan Harris's return to be the spear head of the attack. As well as Shane Watson being able to bowl in this series, and bowl to the level that has seen him average 19.07 with the ball in 2011. Nathan Lyon will also be crucial to the success of the bowling in respect to you know the Indians will target him in the sincerest manner, and duly if they maul him making Michael Clarke lose the courage to bowl him. It will be a decisive factor on the series because of the extra work load put on the pace men.

India

India test squad for Australia tour, December 2011, January 2012.

PlayersTestsRunsWktsPlaying role
MS Dhoni (captain)6434070Wicket keeper, right hand bat
Sachin Tendulkar1841518345Right handed top order batsman
Rahul Dravid160130941Right hand top order batsman
Gautam Gambhir443531N/ALeft handed opening batsman
Virender Sehwag92760439Right handed opening batsman
VVS Laxman13086802Right handed middle order batsman
Ajinkya Rahane00N/ARight handed opening batsman
Virat Kohli41910Right handed middle order batsman
Rohit Sharma000Right handed middle order batsman
Wridhiman Saha136N/AWicket keeper, right hand bat
Abhimanyu Mithun41209Right arm medium fast bowler
Zaheer Khan791045273Left arm fast medium bowler
R Vinay Kumar000Right arm medium fast bowler
Umesh Yadav209Right arm fast medium bowler
Ishant Sharma41383128Right arm fast medium bowler
R Ashwin312122Offspinner, right hand bat
Pragyan Ojha148745Left arm ofthodox spinner
Praveen KumarSelected, and then ruled out injured
Varun AaronSelected, and then ruled out injured
The Squad is symbolised by its batting strength as well as the queries over its bowling, which have become major concerns with the injury clouds over the Teams spearheads in Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. As well as the loss of the wily Praveen Kumar before the series. Succes for the team India will be based largely on the performance of their bowlers.

Batting

Truthfully, before any series the excellence of the Indian batting line up is as sure as taxes, but after watching them in 2011 it leads you to doubt them a bit.

This in the face of the their performances that have been way down on their typically stellar ways


Player
MatInnsNORunsHSAveBFSR1005004s6s
R Dravid112131067146*59.27234345.535301173
SR Tendulkar815165114646.50132249.24140824
VVS Laxman11214770176*45.29147052.38161850
R Ashwin34112110340.3316374.23101152
G Gambhir71304549334.9298945.90040620
A Mishra3601878431.1633256.32010251
MS Dhoni1119248214428.3582858.21134479
V Sehwag61103106028.1838480.72032453

Most of these averages getting a nice boost against the toothless West Indies attack on batting friendly pitches in India of late. 

Away from that series, the performance of some of their top 7 in England made you question about whether decay had entered into their stellar batting. Symbolised by the combination of Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and M.S.Dhoni averaging a combined 24.78 for the series with no centuries from any. Tendulkar averaging the highest of the group with an average of 34.12, which is well down on his career average

In their defence, these struggles were against a great English bowling attack in conditions that supported them, but still there were signs that raised concerns over a few Indian batsmen. The Australian attack is a shadow of England's one, and the conditions will be more suited to the Indian batsmen, but still a tinge of doubt remains.

It will decide the series too. In the knowledge that India's success for near on 10 years now has been facilitated by the pressure that their murderers rows batting line up has exerted on oppositions to prop up their traditional fragile bowling. If they do not excel in this series, it takes away that pressure, and means the bowling will find it very tough to get 20 wickets.

As always the key man will be Virender Sehwag, who in his past adventures in Australia has given the Aussie bowlers cold sweats averaging 59.50. if he can replicate the devastation he has gained a reputation for in Australia it takes so much pressure off the Indian middle order. Due to the fact that when Viru is on a rampage the focus is always on him. Meaning other batsmen can bat with little or no pressure.

The depth that M.S.Dhoni gives to the batting will be crucial as well, and that will be dependant on how he adapts to the Australian pitches. In the view that he is a master mauler of a batsman on Asian pitches, but viewed as very fragile away from the comforts of Asia. It will be his greatest challenge, and if he can adapt, and thrive it gives India a real sting in its batting that could prove decisive

Lastly the contentious number 6 position for India that has existed since Sourav Ganguly has retired. The incumbent is Virat Kohli, who looked good against the West Indies on flat tracks, but in the coinciding series in the Caribbean looked a dead man walking against the short ball. Which does not inspire confidence in his pedigree on bouncy Aussie tracks. In my view, Rohit Sharma would be a better selection, but Kohli will be selected. Whether he can adapt, and play well is highly doubtful, but the lad deserves a chance to prove us critics wrong.

Series Rating- 8/ 10

The struggles in England made you doubt a few in the line up, but the class is evident in abundance, and you can see them rising to the challenge. In particular VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, who always put Australia to the sword in Australia, and achieved these results against mighty Aussies attacks. There is no names like Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne in this Aussie attack for them to contend with either..........

Bowling

In truth the Indian bowling is like a box of chocolates in this series in regards to you just do not know what you will get. It could be exposed as being amateurish in the extreme if Zaheer Khan and Ishant Shjarma are neutralised through injury or it could be a very pleasant surprise if these two are what they can be supported by the youngsters. In particular Umesh Yadav has a look about him that makes you think he might a very decent contributor in the series.

Then in the spin duo of Pragyan Ohja and Ravichandran Ashwin India has two spinners that could pose real issues for the Australian batting. Especially on the pitches in Sydney and Adelaide that will more than likely support spin bowling.

The bowling will be helped by the fragile nature of the Australian batting, and if it performs to its potential has the class and calibre to get 20 wickets.

It will be interesting the tactics of the Indians. For on batting pitches like Adelaide and Sydney, that will support spin and reverse swing. It would make sense to bat Dhoni at 6, and include both the spinners as part of a 5 man attack.

This will likely not happen because of the conservative nature of the Indian brains trust, but it would be a very charismatic and attacking move.

In the absence of this, the key choice in the bowling will be which spinner will be selected for the first Test. It is likely that Ashwin will get the nod because of the added bonus of his batting and his very refined fielding, but this might be a mistake for Pragyan Ohja is arguably the better and more complete Test bowler at present

Series Rating- 5/10 ( 7/10, if Zaheer is the bowler he can be )

I am doing some major fence sitting here in the knowledge that if either Zaheer Khan or Ishant Sharma are effected unduly by injury then the attack becomes toothless. Conversely, if in particular Zaheer is anywhere near his peak with his mastery of all forms of swing he will devastate the Australian batting.

Prediction.

What do I trust more?

The fragile Australian batting to be well performed in this series or the equally fragile Indian bowling to be able to get 20 wickets?

I think both will neutralise each other.

Meaning the series will be decided by Australia's ability to be decisive against India's batting.

I cannot see this happening.

2/1 to India ( 2 nil to India, if Zaheer is fit and firing )


4 comments:

  1. Hey Tim, an excellent analysis...your blog has certainly come a long way.

    -Justin

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  2. Great review, Tim. I somehow feel Aussies are favourites. They are at their best, when under pressure. 'An injured tiger is more dangerous' Also did you compare Ed Cowan with Simon Katich. Hmmm...dnt agree to that.

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  3. If Zak and Ishant did not have a cloud over their fitness U wd hv backed India but as it is I think teh aussies wd be lucky and get away with a 2-0 win. If the batting collapse which has been a must in the last few series happens, then India may match their prev best with Ozs winning 2-1.

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