Eager to make an impact

Much will be expected from the Indian team as it gears up for Australia test

Eager to make an impact

This wasn’t quite the start one was anticipating for this high-profile series. It was supposed to be a trial by fire for the young Indian batting line-up which is expected to atone for its failures in England not too long ago.

Mitchell Johnson steaming in and delivering his thunderbolt bouncers at 150 kph was expected to be the theme of this India-Australia contest. It may still pan out that way but the tragic demise of Phillip Hughes, incidentally to a nasty snorter, has had a sombre effect on every stakeholder, minor or major, in the game.

Though the little left-hander has had moderate success with the bat in his chequered career, he had endeared himself to everyone around him with an uncomplaining attitude and an uncompromising work ethic. Hughes’ passing away has left the Australian side emotionally fragile.

Their captain, Michael Clarke, whose availability itself is uncertain for the first Test, is heart-broken. Distraught as they are, it remains to be seen in what condition three of Hughes’ former New South Wales team-mates – David Warner, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin – will be when they turn up at the Adelaide Oval on Tuesday morning. You can well imagine what impact it will have on the entire unit if more than half the squad is still in a state of shock and sorrow.

While one can only hope that the grieving Australians pick themselves up fast and give their best in the middle, India have no reason to play with less intensity. Along with South Africa, Australia remains an unconquered territory for India who are yet to win a series in 10 visits to the country since 1947-48.

They have enjoyed some moments of glory, but a series win continues to dodge them. In 2004, they came close to clinching one under Sourav Ganguly while in 2008 the Anil Kumble-led side recorded an emotional win at Perth after the unsavoury events in the previous Test in Sydney. All those sweet memories, however, were wiped away when Australia whitewashed an ageing team 4-0 in the year 2012.          

After the hiding in England, where they had begun their campaign with a famous win at Lord’s before things took a stunning turnaround, the young Indian batsmen will be under microscope. While it would be unkind to bracket them as flat-track bullies, they need to translate their obvious potential into consistent performances.

Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the side but an unequivocal failure in England, will be expected to form the fulcrum of Indian batting. It will also be at the back of his mind that the swing that troubled him endless in Old Blighty, won’t be such a major threat in Australia. There is also a small matter of Kohli scoring his maiden Test hundred in Adelaide, where India begin their defence of Border-Gavaskar Trophy.   

Cheteshwar Pujara too endured a poor run in England and the right-hander, coming in at number three, will have to anchor the batting effectively. Ajinkya Rahane has been one of the more consistent batsmen in Tests, be it in South Africa or New Zealand or England, and India will hope the Mumbai batsman carries his form in Australia.

He has already given a good account of himself in the practice match where his batting impressed even the Aussie bowlers. Equally crucial will be the starts by openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. Vijay was one of the few success stories in England and while the right-hander can be banked upon to play out the new ball, Dhawan has been a bit iffy in Tests.

That he has survived the axe is probably because of his stupendous run in ODIs. He wasn’t particularly impressive in the practice matches either. The southpaw will have to get his act right or it won’t be long before KL Rahul takes his place.

What should provide Indian hopes the boost is the presence of a battery of pacemen who are not only quick but bring in a lot of variety to the table. Varun Aaron consistently bowls at 140-plus kph while Umesh Yadav isn’t too far behind. If Aaron, who sometimes can breach 150 kph mark as well, can hold up for the length of the gruelling four-Test series, he will add potency to the Indian attack.

Yadav has worked on his bowling lengths and should he implement it, he can prove lethal. Ishant Sharma, who came to prominence in Australia with a testing spell against Ricky Ponting in 2008, finally appears to be doing justice to the long rope he has been given. The gangling pacer has bagged 34 wickets in the last seven Tests abroad and in varying conditions like South Africa, New Zealand and England. He is slowly emerging as the leader of the pack that he was always deemed as one.

Mohammad Shami has gone a bit off the radar of late but his ability to get the ball to reverse at high speed is his greatest strength. In the harsh summer conditions of Australia, he should be able to work on his craft.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be your first pick in conditions that aid swing but in the absence of movement of the ball in the air, his lack of pace on the bouncy Australian pitches can be his biggest handicap. Overall, though, this will be India’s most resourceful pace unit ever to travel Down Under and as such much will be expected of this bunch.

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