The Border-Gavaskar Series train has rolled into Perth this week, with the Australians as cock-a-hoop as the Indians are shell-shocked.
If there’s a worse place than Perth for a sub-continental side to land in search of a desperate face-saving win, then I can’t think of it readily.
India did last win here, in 2007-08, and were even trailing 2-0 when they did, but that now-infamous series was being played between teams a lot more closely-matched than Australia and India are currently.
On the back of the crushing innings victory in Sydney, Australia arrive in the west missing only the giant-killing Test rookie, James Pattinson, who is being rested while he manages a foot injury. Two-Test leftie Mitchell Starc has won a recall to the 12-man squad after being overlooked for Ben Hilfenhaus for the Melbourne Test.
Australia will still be well-equipped for what remains as arguably the world’s fastest, bounciest 22-yard strip of turf. Pattinson will most likely be replaced by Ryan Harris, who is set to resume his eight-Test career on the same ground as he and Mitchell Johnson ripped through England in Australia’s only Ashes Series win last summer.
As has been the case for as long as I can remember, the annual debate about “the need for speed” rages over the make-up of the Australian attack in Perth.
Western Australian spinner, Michael Beer, was lobbed from obscurity into the Test squad for the WACA Test last summer, though Australia ultimately preferred to play the pace quartet of Johnson, Harris, Hilfenhaus, and Peter Siddle.
Johnson and Harris both finished that Test with 9 wickets apiece, and there’s little doubt that will be fresh in the minds when the decision comes down on whether offie Nathan Lyon holds his spot, or whether Starc plays Test no.3.
Lyon has managed only one wicket in each of the Melbourne and Sydney Tests so far, both of them tail-enders as the Indian innings has come to an abrupt end. But in fairness, the Australian quicks taking 37 of the 40 Indian wickets in the series has meant that Lyon really hasn’t had to do much more than he has.
But that still doesn’t make the decision any easier, nor does it clarify the debate.
WACA CEO, former Australian opener Graeme Wood, has offered his two cents that Australia should go in with four quicks, no doubt hoping that the thought of Indian batsmen being bombarded with the short stuff promotes ticket sales.
Former Western Australian and now Australian coach, Mickey Arthur is leaning back on the side of a balanced side containing Lyon, while WACA curator Cameron Sutherland is having the proverbial each way, diplomatically suggesting that while a four-prong pace attack would do well, spin will play a part toward the end of the match.
Early pictures of the WACA deck showed a strip barely distinguishable from the outfield, though it has obviously dried up, browned off, and flattened out since then. What we see at the toss tomorrow will be altogether different again.
The debate about the Australian line-up still pales in comparison to that of what’s being thrown India’s way since the SCG loss last week. Even quicker than what Fleet Street bestows on England, India’s media and former greats have turned on the side in spectacular fashion.
The words of an Indian scribe are still fresh in my ears, when after the first innings collapse in Sydney, he screamed “they are letting the nation down!” down the phone during a radio interview back home. It would’ve been quite funny, if he wasn’t so deadly serious.
Former Captain Sunil Gavaskar has questioned the team’s quantity and quality of preparation, and would have been thrilled at the news that the Indians went go-karting on arrival in Perth. Commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, once a national team-mate of Sachin Tendulkar’s, believes VVS Laxman should make way for Rohit Sharma, while there as also calls for Rahul Dravid or even Virender Sehwag to shuffle down the batting order, if that’s what’s required to spark the struggling top order.
Curiously, calls have even been coming for Ravi Ashwin to be left out in favour of Paul Adams-impersonating left-armer, Pragyan Ojha, on the grounds that Ashwin is apparently still not ready for Test cricket. I don’t know how much more ready he can be, given he’s already taken 26 wickets in five Tests, and is currently second only to Tendulkar on India’s run charts this series.
And then, as if India won’t be fired up enough by the stern words coming from home and their travelling press corps, we have the curious case of Brad Haddin.
In a Sydney radio interview on Monday, Haddin boldly declared, “We know this side can be as fragile as any team in the world if things aren’t going their way and they can turn on each other and the media turns on them pretty quick. We knew if we could keep them out there and put the numbers like we did on the board we knew we’d get the rewards because they break quicker than anyone in the world.”
Of all the people questioning the mental fragility of cricketers currently, I wouldn’t have thought Haddin would feature too far up the list of those well qualified to do so. Had this come from any of the Australian quicks, or Michael Clarke (though as captain, he wouldn’t anyway), or even Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting, you wouldn’t have been too worried. But Brad Haddin, in his current vein of form?
The issue, as I commented on colleague Luke Doherty’s piece yesterday, isn’t so much the message itself. The message is on the money, and even somewhat common knowledge. India are a fragile side away from home. They do break quicker than any other team. The issue is the poor choice of messenger handling the delivery.
As a retort, Zaheer Khan’s “Well, Brad Haddin, I think he should focus on his ‘keeping, that looked really fragile to me…” was as piercing and as precisely executed as a Tendulkar square drive. He even added a kind of evil chuckle.
Some mighty big statements need to be backed up now, but the Perth Test has a real edge about it as a result. India desperately need to recover or another away series whitewash is well on the cards. And on current form, that would be a fair reflection of the teams.