England announced their squad for the Ashes yesterday, a good two months before the first ball will be bowled in the first Test match at the Gabba in Brisbane. Australian coach Tim Nielsen, on the other hand, spoke about how Aussie preparations for the series were a “one step ahead of where we are at the moment.” With the series against India beginning in exactly a week’s time from now, will it give any signals towards Australia’s preparedness for the Ashes?
There may be a small matter of a couple of Test matches against India, and despite trying to make all the right noises about it, one senses that it is only going to act like a sidekick to the Ashes. The slow and low pitches, the rather raucous atmosphere, the heat and the pollution and the dust and the sheer length of the series makes it very different from what the Aussies can expect from the English back home.
However, over years, Australia is known to use the blinkers rather well. The job on hand is the most important one for the team and for now, the series against India is the one to look out for them. It is not as if playing India does not come with its own incentives. One, the Aussies are ranked number four in the world – any lower and they may not be even considered a Test playing nation by their fans. Playing against India, the number one team, and beating them in the series will not only afford them the confidence to take on the Pommies in the Ashes, but also the ICC points to claw back to the top of the perch.
Secondly, it is a matter of playing the spinners in India. While the grounds in India have failed to remain as demonic for visiting teams – especially when it came to facing up to the spinners – batting against the likes of Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra will give the Aussies some valuable lessons on how to handle Graeme Swann. Not for nothing is Swann the best spinner in the world today and facing up to him, even in the Aussie conditions which stunt the growth of many a spinner, would be a challenge.
What may make things easier for the Aussies is two-fold again. India is generally a slow starter when it comes to Tests; in 2010 itself they have begun two Test series with a loss each before coming from behind to round off a drawn series. It is difficult to fathom the reason behind this but it is a trend that will not worry the Aussies too much. With the Indian team expected to get together for the Tests only after the completion of the Champions League T20, one can expect another slow start from them. It will be up to the Aussies to take advantage of the same.
Secondly, the main Indian bowlers are all returning from injuries. Or the two of them are doing so anyway. Harbhajan Singh had missed the previous Test series and so had Zaheer Khan, and both will take their time to get into the groove of bowling in a five-day match. Harbhajan, in particular, has not been in the form of his life and that could be music to the ears of Ricky Ponting’s ears – after having been the Aussie captain’s scourge for years now.
All in all, the series could be an interesting one from the Australian perspective, but the feeling of it ending before it had even begun could rankle the fans later.
About the Author
Written by Suneer Chowdhary
A cricket-aspirant at the age of 12, tried my hand at pace bowling, but those were the days of India aspiring for spinners! So, chose the next best option to profess my love towards cricket; became a cricket writer instead