Saturday, December 15, 2007

Down Under: Here we come !!!

So finally, Anil Kumble and his men are ready to go Down Under to battle the world champions in their own yard. While there may be understable hoopla post the series victory against Pakistan, the skipper would know better than anyone else the enormity of the challenge ahead. Even at the best of times, Australia is a tough place to tour. Now, with an ageing middle order and a not-so-great bowling attack, the Men in Blue (or Whites during the tests) should have to do something out of the ordinary to rattle the Aussies.

This is probably what the selectors had in mind when they took the Sehwag gamble. Evidently, memories of Boxing Day in 2003 are still fresh in their minds, and if Viru can play even one innings close to that, the selectors might be vindicated. But if not, then we would start off with problems right at the top. Jaffer has never played against Australia in tests (and since he is not in ODIs, he probably has never seen an Australian team on the field before !!). So, it will be expecting much of him to provide the good starts that we need to have the middle-order fire. He might still do it, in which case it will be a huge bonus (in fact, I believe Jaffer's performance might go a long way in deciding the course of the series !!). But by picking Sehwag, the selectors are sure to give a severe headache to Kumble on Christmas day, when he has to finalize the 11 who would walk out at the MCG. Whom does he leave out ??? If Sehwag is in the 16, then it does not make sense to leave him out of the 11. So Karthik gets benched. And then the wretched question: What abt Yuvraj ???. I saw his 169 at Bangalore and, while the bowling was pedestrian and the pitch benign, it still was a damn good innings (especially coming at 61/4). But, if he is to be picked, then who goes out ?? Dravid is too good a player to be left out, Sachin is in good form and is still our best bet, Sourav is in the form of his life while Laxman is being counted out on to score against the Aussies. It is going to be an interesting decision.

On the other hand, when it comes to bowling, Kumble has the opposite problem: Whom does he pick ??? Zaheer and RP Singh are sure to play if fit. The fourth bowler is the question: Harbhajan has played only 1 test in Australia so far and anyways, the pitches their wont require 2 spinners. But of the remaining three bowlers, Ishant Sharma and Pankaj Singh are raw and untried. Picking either of them is a gamble which no captain can afford especially when he is going in with only 4 bowlers (to understand that, Just look at Pakistan's plight at Bangalore when Shoaib walked off). With 4 bowlers, you simply cannot afford any bowler to lose his line and length, or worse still, be injured. And in my book, on Australian pitches, Irfan Pathan is only as good as the 5th bowler who bats quite decently and bowls 12-15 overs a day of line and length. My guess is that Kumble would play safe and go with Zaheer, RP, himself and Pathan and rely on Ganguly and Sachin to bowl those 12 overs. Either ways, never in recent memory would the selection of a final 11 of a Test match be so tough.

All the best to Kumble and his men !! I cannot wait for 26 December, 5.30 am !!!