Mark Waugh has always been a polarisng cricketer.
I used to hate this time of year as a young fella.
The gap between the end of the footy season and the start of the cricket Tests. It was only about six or eight weeks, but there were times when it felt like six or eight years to a person super keen to see some real cricket again.
Fast forward to 2020 and that feeling is back. Fair enough, the footy seasons are still going (doesn’t that feel weird, the finals haven’t even started), but it seems like an eternity since we last had some decent cricket to watch.
Take nothing away from the tours of England, but the Test were played in rapid-fire succession and the Aussie visit seemed to be over and done with in seconds. And that’s after having little international cricket to watch since the last Test against New Zealand wrapped up in January.
This Test summer looks to be an absolute beauty. India have been a powerhouse in world cricket in the past five or six years, but right now find themselves down the list of cricketing nations in all three formats. That alone will not please Virat Kohli.
They managed to lose their number one Test ranking to Australia earlier in the year, thanks to a couple of indifferent performances against a fired-up Black Caps outfit, who were determined to make up for their own underwhelming efforts against Australia in the trans-Tasman Tests.
There’s no doubt India will be hell-bent on re-establishing themselves as the number one Test-playing nation with a series win.
On the other hand, Tim Paine’s men will still remember the series loss to India. It doesn’t matter now why the team lost, or that the series was lost 2-1. It’s all about getting revenge and making sure the team has a firm grip on the top spot in Test cricket.
To borrow some AFL terminology, there also promises to be some key matchups.
Tim Paine versus Virat Kohli as on-field captains could easily shape the outcome of this series.
Last time around, Paine had skippered the Australian team in one Test on the disastrous South African tour, then two further Tests against Pakistan, before trying to match it with an under-strength Australian side versus a full-strength Indian squad.
Paine has improved significantly as a leader since then, but Kohli knows his team well and is clearly an inspirational leader. It should be fascinating watching how each manages their attacks, field placings and so on.
Very importantly, it will be vital how each captain manages the periods of high emotion and pressure. Many were critical of Paine after the Australian loss at Headingley last year, but Kohli is a volatile captain who sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him.
Another match-up will be Dave Warner versus Jasprit Bumrah. Warner had a stellar Test summer and his partnership with Joe Burns often got the team off to good starts. His recent white-ball form in England was poor and Bumrah in particular will really test him out bowling around the wicket.
The Indian attack was very good in 2018-19, but can they be as dominant again given the stunning rise of Marnus Labuscagne and the ongoing class of Steve Smith?
On the other hand, India won the last series by “out-patiencing” the Australian attack. Cheteshwar Pujara, in particular, was a rock for the Indian batting line-up, batting for long periods and showing the sort of concentration not often seen at Test level in recent times.
He and the rest of the Indian batting line-up will be facing possibly the best four-pronged attack Australia has fielded. The sustained aggression and pressure they brought to bear on both Pakistan and New Zealand last summer was incredible. Batsman after batsman had to play just about every ball, every over and there was little respite because there were few loose deliveries.
Even when Nathan Lyon came on he kept up the pressure and managed 20 wickets against the Kiwis and 27 for the Test summer.
Pujara has not been in such stellar form since that series, so it will be interesting to see what tactics they adopt to counter such a strong attack.
A final match-up will involve the crowds. The current health crisis appears to be gradually coming under control, which should hopefully mean cricket lovers being allowed into grounds to watch the Tests, albeit in limited numbers. It’s also likely flight restrictions into Australia will still be in place, which means travelling Indian fans will be absent.
Aussie fans will be desperate to get out and watch some live sport, especially if there is likely to be a real contest. It’s also likely many will recall how the Australian team was greeted by a raucous few Indian fans at last year’s World Cup.
Certain players were singled out for some unnecessary attention, so much so that Virat Kohli was forced to try and calm the crowd down (which was a seriously classy action on his part, by the way).
There is no need for any retaliation on the part of the fans, but Australian crowds will certainly be vocal and keen to keep the Indian players up to speed with their thoughts on the game, especially if the Aussies are on top.
There are still so many things that have to go right just for this tour to take place, though all the signs are looking positive for a great Test summer between two outstanding teams. The third of December can’t come quickly enough!