Familiarity breeds conviviality: Will the IPL lead to a more friendly contest?
There was a time when the mystique of India, and the travel a tour here entailed, generated a significant home advantage. Australian players had to be educated on Indian customs, taught the value of patience as a way of life, for example. Now, they probably have long term multiple entry visas for India, say hello to the concierge as they check into familiar hotels and in places like Jaipur, Shane Watson and James Faulkner probably know the pitch, and the groundsman, better than most Indian players would! There is an easy familiarity with Indian players and their styles and deep friendships with Indian team mates have been moulded in some cases. Why Glenn Maxwell was leading a team song in honour of Rohit Sharma three days before the first T20 in Rajkot!
I wonder if this would produce a little less needle than such encounters have had in the past and, interestingly, George Bailey wondered too if that could be the case in a conversation I had with him a couple of days ago. I wouldn’t mind that, to be honest, because I have long felt that aggression is best demonstrated in the desire to win rather than in words and gestures towards opponents. And on that count, I don’t think we need worry at all!
This is a good Australian one day side, clearly they are a better limited overs team now than they are a test side. Almost all the bowlers bat and a lot of the batsmen bowl and whichever team eventually takes the field, you can be sure the captain will have nine batting and seven bowling options. They have had a very good series in Australia even though you got the feeling that England under-valued it greatly (and raises an unrelated issue on whether that was the responsible thing to do) and I will be surprised if they don’t make it a very competitive series.
In course of time of course Australia would want to have a stronger test side and, almost as a matter of consequence a good one-day team. South Africa seem to produce a strange aberration where they are the number one ranked test side and are languishing, almost unbelievably, at number five in the odi ranking. But that is an anomaly for in a sport that is played by such few nations you would believe the rankings would be similar. Australia are proving too that the reverse, a good one day side becoming a good test side, need not be true. Some of their best one-day players have struggled to break into the test team or, having done so, to maintain a regular presence there. Steve Smith might have done it recently but the case of Clint McKay and George Bailey seems the more prevalent. And so apart from Shane Watson and Brad Haddin (and he too has only just won his test place back) none of the others really walk into the test team. It could mean that playing this series in India may not be such a big distraction from the Ashes but more crucially for them it means their new players seem more at home playing shorter cricket.
Interestingly, India’s one-day team pretty closely mirrors the test team, certainly in Indian conditions with at least six (Dhawan, Kohli, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin and Bhuvaneshwar) certainties in long form cricket. It might suggest that India are handling the different forms of the game better than Australia though for that to be justified, away performances will have to be better than they have been in the last couple of years.
Keep an eye out though for players at the top and the bottom of the order. Rohit Sharma has said he is happy to open the batting in all forms of the game and, even if not truly representative, his performance as an opener in these one-day games will be closely scrutinised. And India will need one of the four seamers, other than Bhuvaneshwar, to make a strong impression. India currently has quantity in seam and swing bowling but not too many take your breath away.
I believe India will start favourites but do keep your eye out for dewy evenings. We don’t want the toss to decide who wins!
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