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Bigger than The Ashes!

Updated on: 02 February,2023 09:18 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Michael Jeh |

The love-hate relationship between India and Australia and prime-time viewing have led to the Border-Gavaskar series surpassing the traditional rivalry between England and Australia as the most eagerly anticipated Test event

Bigger than The Ashes!

India opener Shubman Gill sweeps during his gritty knock of 91 on Day Five of the fourth and final Border-Gavaskar Trophy series-winning Test at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia, in January 2021. Rishabh Pant was the other high scorer of the innings with 89 not out. Pic/Getty Images

Michael JehIn India, your heart guides you more than your head.  I have heard this statement many times and it may well be the difference between who wins the Border Gavaskar Trophy next month.

In Australia, this series has now surpassed the Ashes for the most eagerly anticipated Test cricket event.  The time zones lend themselves to prime-time viewing and the love/hate relationship that Australian cricket now has with India is compelling.  India is now seen as the last frontier where reputations (and fortunes) are made.  It’s a far cry from the old adage that you had to score runs in Australia before you were considered a true Test batsman—it’s now equally true of succeeding in India.

Emotional roller-coaster

There is of course an inherent danger of playing with the heart if you allow the emotional roller-coaster to carry you away in India.  You may not win a Test in a single session, but when the crowd roars and soars with every boundary, a foolhardy moment can lose the game.  

Australian cricketers no longer fear Indian pitches, weather or crowds but they understand that this series is far removed from playing for an IPL franchise. Whether the Indians can keep their emotions in check at key flashpoints is probably going to decide the outcome.  This applies too when calling for DRS.  Too often, India has allowed an over-excited bowler to sway their thinking.  Smith and Labuschagne, on the other hand, will almost always review their own dismissal—it’s something India should goad them into.

The key participants

Virat Kohli and David Warner thrive on the raw energy. Cheteshwar Pujara and Usman Khawaja provide the antithesis to that mindset.  Labuschagne will have to find a way to conserve his nervous energy; he will be tempting fate if he continues to give as many chances as his Test career thus far has afforded him.  I have always said that when he goes through a patch when catches are gleefully snapped up, it will test his resolve.  India need to see that as an opportunity to make inroads into the middle order, albeit with Steve Smith in rare form to stand in their way.  His quirky technique will be tested but he seems to find a way to overcome most bowling plans.

Australia are due to lose a few tosses.  They won all five tosses this summer at home. That could be a key determinant if the pitches take late spin. Australia have all bases covered with a balanced attack, but their depth will be tested if injuries take their toll. India are already severely disadvantaged without Rishabh Pant and possibly Jasprit Bumrah. Pant is the batsman Australia feared the most because of his unwillingness to be squeezed. Kohli and Pujara will be the most prized scalps, but when things get tight, Brisbane 2021 will no longer conjure up bad memories unless someone else can channel that inner-Pant.

Australia’s mantra of the 80s

In the 1980s, the Aussies came up with the mantra when touring the sub-continent—to lose your patience is to lose the war. That theory may no longer hold true. The advent of DRS means that batsmen are given out when they lead with the front pad and bat-pad catches are detected on Hot Spot. The IPL has demystified spinning pitches to some extent.  England showcased a new way of taking the game by the scruff of the neck in Pakistan recently.  But it’s one thing targeting an inexperienced Pakistani attack... will England (or India) have the courage to take on Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins and keep doing it even if it fails the first time?

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Australia will not sit back and wait for India’s spinners to suffocate them.  The reverse sweep will be more than a novelty shot.  Khawaja, Warner and Alex Carey will try to sweep R Ashwin to distraction. It might be the most influential shot of the series. India’s best fielders need to be deployed at short third man. On such small details will the series be decided.  

The writer is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer

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