The Aussies may have lacked the skills to master conditions on these shores, but circumstances have now forced them to pick at least one leaf out of Indian cricket’s book – the art of obfuscation, a very un-Australian trait.
MS Dhoni and Co tend to play their cards close to their chest when it comes to parrying media queries on injury updates or possible line-ups. The Australians, traditionally, have been the opposite: very upfront and professional. That is, up until a day before the Delhi Test.
A team which announced its playing XI two days before the first Test of the series now sits on a cloud of doubt and injury scares.
Staring at a possible ‘Brownwash’ and an implosion of team dynamics following ‘HomeworkGate’, the team appeared unable to cement its plans till late into Thursday. What made matters more complicated was skipper Michael Clarke’s insistence he would play if the bulging disc in his back showed signs of recovery come match day.
“I haven’t missed a Test through injury since my debut in 2004 and I’ll do everything to keep it that way,” said Clarke, “I still have 24 hours.”
Clarke appeared determined but in the eventuality he isn’t up to it, Shane Watson may take the field as Australia’s 44th Test captain at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Questions linger about Watson’s poor form, attitude and leadership abilities in the wake of an extraordinary turn of events following the one-Test axe and subsequent flight back home.
Clarke was non-committal on all possibilities. “Shane hasn’t performed as well as he would have liked,” he said, in the same breath supporting Watson’s credentials as potential leader. He even hedged his bets when asked about the possibility of Brad Haddin or Matthew Wade playing, or Mitchell Johnson getting a look-in.
Such doublespeak is not usually the Aussie way, but these are unusual times for cricket Down Under. For India, on the other hand, such puzzlement is par for the course.
Dhoni’s men are on the cusp of history – India have never managed a 4-0 victory margin in a Test series before – and the Kotla is expected to be a comfortably potent, low turner, playing to the team’s strengths. Yet they didn’t name their XI, or send in their captain to address such issues.
With Shikhar Dhawan injured, Ajinkya Rahane should finally get a chance after warming the benches for 16 months. It’s only fair that he be allowed to open, but there is little clarity on whether the team management has earmarked a possible future role in the middle order for him.
Unlike Dhawan before the third Test, Rahane wasn’t sent in to address the media. If the team management wants to spring a surprise, there is another option in Suresh Raina, the middle-order bat, in which case Cheteshwar Pujara will be the likely man to open along with M Vijay.
Whether this young India team has the hunger to go for the jugular at the Kotla will go a long way towards determining if Dhoni and Co have shed the defensive attitudes of the past.
Ishant Sharma, while acknowledging the team’s desire to become No. 1 again, betrayed a lingering bitterness about the defeats in Australia earlier.
“Our attempt is to work hard and be No. 1 again. When we went to Australia and struggled, we were criticized that we can’t play well overseas. Now Australia can’t play well here. Everyone enjoys home conditions.”
Their only Test win in Delhi came way back in 1959. Ashwin, their chief tormentor in this series, took nine wickets in his last Test here against the Windies.
For India, the challenge will be to carry the sparks ignited from these wins to South Africa later this year. For Delhiites, there is the tantalizing prospect of watching Sachin Tendulkar bat for possibly the last time at the Kotla.
(Ajinkya) Rahane has sat out for long. It’s not healthy for a player’s development. I think he should play and open the innings and (Cheteshwar) Pujara should stick to No. 3: Sourav Ganguly on Ajinkya Rahane.
I found the first three of four tours I went there I couldn’t score a run. It wasn’t until a few tours down the track that I started learning about playing spin bowling and coping with the conditions that I started to work it out. Those guys on that tour will be a whole lot better off next time they go there and are confronted with conditions like that. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully they can finish on a winning note this week: Ricky Ponting on Australian team.
Skipper speak Michael Clarke:
– I’ll have to first assess my injury and then take a call. I haven’t missed a Test through injury since my debut in 2004 and I’ll do everything to keep it that way ahead of the fourth Test.
– It’s the same bulging disc issue I’ve battled on and off since I was 17. I have to make sure that I’ll remain injury-free for the next assignment. I’ll have to first assess my injury and then take a call in the morning.
– It will be really satisfying if we go back home winning the last Test. We need this win. We are putting in our best effort to get this win under our belt.
– I don’t think (back injury) will have any impact (on career). It hasn’t had any impact in regards to my Test cricket at this stage. I don’t think it will play any role at all.
– I speak individually to all the players (who are on the bench). What is most important is that you keep preparing like you’re playing.
Drawing Board: India are on a roll, but they have been forced to make changes to the team thanks to Dhawan’s injury. On a slow, dry pitch they will also think if they need two pace bowlers.
Watson and Warner should open and Phil Hughes needs a break. They could also think about replacing Henriques with Khawaja. Whatever they do, they need to bat better in the first innings and try not to lose wickets in pairs.
Weather: Summer has arrived in Delhi and the temperatures will be in the mid-30s. Though the Capital witnessed some thunderstorms late on Wednesday evening, there is no threat of rain during the Test match.
Ground: The surface at the Kotla is usually low and slow and is conducive to spin bowlers who are accurate. It’ll be no different this time around. The fact that it’s the end of the season, means the wicket will be more weary and dry.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Suresh Raina, Ashok Dinda.
Australia: Michael Clarke (Capt.), Shane Watson, Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Johnson.