Monday, 21 January 2008

Kumble and Laxman challenge Australia's hegemony

How much we can all read into a solitary game of cricket. A week ago Australia were a superhuman side who, even if they had to cross the line in doing so, would simply always find a way to win. Now they are merely a brilliant side about to embark on the way down.

There are a number of areas of perceived fallibility India will look to exploit at Adelaide where, considering they won there four years ago on a pitch reasonably conducive to spin, they will rightly believe they can level the series. These include the opening pair - though this will be less vulnerable if Matt Hayden returns; Adam Gilchrist, undeniably in decline although still able to play the occasional superlative knock; and the fourth bowler, most likely to be Brad Hogg.

Whatever happens in the final Test, however, there is little doubt that India are now the second best side in the world. Following on from two impressive series victories over England and Pakistan, there have responded superbly to a thrashing at Melbourne. In Anil Kumble, they have a combative and proud skipper whose attributes have rubbed off upon his team-mates. As was the case last time in Australia, he has bowled with guile and gumption, becoming the third man to take 600 Test wickets in the process.

Their seam attack has progressed superbly of late. The rejuivinated Zaheer Khan is an admirable leader of the attack; but, indicative of the resilience of this side, his team-mates have risen to the challenge of his injury. At Perth, they exposed the Australian fallibility to top-class swing bowling. RP Singh is developing into Zhan's heir, able to curve the ball round corners, while Irfan Pathan reminded everyone why the cricketing world were so excited about his emergence four years ago. He batted with class in both innings, looking a bona fide Test number seven, and adds real batting depth when at eight. With the ball, he twice claimed both of Australia's openers; high-quality, controlled swing will always be able to test the best around. And then there was Ishant Sharma. His figures this series belies his talent: no one who witnessed the manner in which he worked out Ricky Ponting, and twice dismissed him, will doubt he is a major talent.

India meekly succumbed with the bat in the opening Test. But their batting has been transformed since, with Rahul Dravid rediscovering his obduracy, Sachin Tendulkar resplendent, and Virender Sehwag showing the merit of an aggressive opener. Yet again, however, VVS Laxman has risen to the Australian challenge, whether playing at three or six. His wristiness and ease playing off the back foot mark him out as one of the most dazzling players around; watching him in full flow is to watch batsmanship at its best. Frankly, he has underachieved in only averaging 44. But, at 33, there are signs that he has a new-found steeliness, and is no longer as prone to ending spectacular cameos with a loose shot. Over the next two years or so, Laxman has the chance to emerge as India's best batsman and cement the reputation his brilliant talents deserve.

Another majestic century at Adelaide would be as good a way as any to start. Australia are rattled and looking a little vulnerable. Under Kumble, India are imbued with a fighting spirit and resilience they have not always been associated with. Whatever happens in the final Test, India have the players to defeat Australia when they meet in India later this year. 'Too much cricket' is a common refrain, but no one will be complaining if Australia-India contests match the intensity and quality of the last two games.


Samir Chopra said...

A very generous post Tim. The biggest challenge for India in the days to come is to keep their bowlers fit, and to find replacements for the Big Four. There are some youngsters knocking on the door (Badrinath, Tiwary et al); it'll be interesting to see how they go.

Tim said...

Yes I agree that phasing out the Big Four will be a monumental challenge. However, the way they are playing at the moment, Dravid is the only one who looks like he may quit/be dropped within the next year or so. Ganguly had a superb 2007, while Tendulkar and VVS are playing as well as ever.