September 29, 2010

Return of top class cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Rankings aside, the contests between Australia and India have generally been close and fascinating during the last one decade or so. The Test matches between these two nations have been particularly absorbing.

They resume their rivalry with a two-Test series starting in Mohali on October 1. Isn’t it a pity that the Test series would be limited to just a couple of matches. It would have been much better for the cause of the game if the contest was spread over four or five encounters.

But it should also not be forgotten that these two Test matches didn’t feature in the original plan and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) reacted only when India were installed as the top ranked Test team.

I don’t know why the functionaries of the BCCI and their counterparts in the Cricket Australia (CA) realize that the Test matches between India and Australia generate as much interest as any limited overs series.

With the intent on making quick bucks neither the BCCI nor the CA seems concerned over the future of Test cricket. It’s only out of necessity that the two Boards agreed to revise the itinerary and include a couple of Tests at the expense of four One-day Internationals during Australia‘s present tour to India.

I think there would have been greater buzz and excitement in India and rest of the cricketing world if the Australians had come for a longer Test series. Imposing events like the Indian Premier League and the Champions League may be helpful in fetching more money for the BCCI but in the long run it could prove disastrous for the cause of the game.

On the positive side it’s heartening to note that Australia and India are getting engaged in bilateral contests much more frequently than in the past. I remember that it was not until 1999-2000 when India had undertaken a tour of Australia after 1991-92.

Like the one eight seasons ago, India had a forgettable tour of Australia in 1999-2000 when their depleted side, under the command of Sachin Tendulkar, had fared miserably and their problems were compounded by some of the most outrageous umpiring decisions seen in the recent times.

It has become a completely different story altogether since 2000-01 and every series has created waves. It had all begun with the follow-on fight back in Kolkata where VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid led the turnaround with Harbhajan Singh doing the rest. India won the three-Test series 2-1 after having lost the opening game.

India couldn’t win the Test series on their last two tours of Australia but they came very close to doing it on both occasions. Sourav Ganguly’s men came up trumps in the 2003-04 series that was drawn 1-1 while Anil Kumble’s warriors went down fighting 1-2.

The Australians have also played top-class cricket in India during this period with Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting having led from the front.

It’s Ponting again with a younger and less experienced squad. On the other hand Mahendra Singh Dhoni is high in confidence with the recovery of his two champion bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.

India enter the two-Test series as the favorites but they could be tested by the Australian youngsters who have a lot to prove at the international level. It would be interesting to see how the Australian speedsters, who bowled horribly in England a few months ago, adjust to the slow and low bounce of Indian pitches.


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