India vs Australia: the battle to win the fans
It’s hard to describe such a feeling going into a series that usually claims top billing.
Reviewing my 20+ year obsession into this great game, I can recall tingling with anticipation as great Australian teams would do battle with great opponents to produce thrilling contests. Think West Indies 1995 or 1999, India 2001 or England 2005.
There have also been series where my heart hoped, yet my head knew that Australia were about to be mauled by a far superior team at the time. India 1998 or worse, England of 2010/11 springs immediately to mind.
But neither of those impressions are forthcoming when describing Australia’s upcoming series against India.
Excitement is there, but measured.
Fear is there, but due to the impending concern it’ll all be a waste of time.
The utmost feeling is the sheer confusion of it all – the realisation that four Tests between two traditionally strong teams may pass and we’ll be none the wiser.
Australia have just finished a home summer where more questions were raised than answers came.
Starting the summer with the mighty South Africans and concluding it with lesser opponents is akin to a serve of foie gras and Dom Perignon followed by a dollop of two-minute noodles and a styrofoam cup of Pepsi.
You get the feeling that Australia’s cricketers feel the confusion as well.
After all, this is the summer where Phillip Hughes can be shielded by a supposedly inferior batsman against a superior opponent.
Other memorable moments of selectorial rationale include picking Peter Siddle on a flat Adelaide deck, but palm him off when a bouncy Perth trampoline comes a-begging.
And we haven’t even begun to describe the cricketing anomaly that is Shane Watson, who can’t seem to decide what kind of cricketer he wants to be beyond the next injury cycle.
In plain English, Australia is a confused animal that knows it can be strong, yet seems insistent to do it the stupidly hard way, and then wonders why the critics come knocking.
What doesn’t help either is an opponent who, if it’s not confused, has a whiff of utter apathy about the task at hand.
If the climb to the top brought the best out of Indian cricket, getting there has done it no favours.
Since winning the 2011 World Cup, Indian cricket has repeatedly demonstrated that Cricket: the game is a secondary statement to Cricket: the business.
The retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman spared the old selection panel the difficult decisions it was mandated to make.
Dropping Gautam Gambhir is a positive step by the new troupe, but what will restore hope to India’s legion of passionate fans is the game controlling the business model, not the other way around.
In cricket parlance, India’s tactics must fall back to its usual strengths at home – domineering batting, their finger spinners ripping the ball and sharp catching around the bat.
A measure of conviction in these objectives should deliver India the series win they thoroughly need to inspire a disaffected public.
But Australia can play their part too. They can go overseas, away from prying eyes, and enjoy this trip.
Warner and Cowan should feel free to sweep, so long as they occasionally step down the wicket too.
Watson should just be clear about what he wants to do, before expecting others to accept him with open arms.
Wade must pouch his chances, and Lyon must use Graeme Swann as his model.
If Australia does that, they can win in a series that proves to the Australian fans these selectors are taking them in the right direction.
Or better still, both teams can be courageous and enjoy these four Tests, and we can end up with a winner that inspires a country, and a loser that inspired a mentality.
The choice is yours gentlemen.