With both teams on a rebuilding curve, the series will be different from previous clashes

The upcoming India-Australia series will be between two middling sides. Both sides are re-building and both seek urgent answers to pressing questions.

Neither team is the World No. 1 with South Africa, undisputedly, being the best Test side in world cricket. So the pressures of staying at the top will not be a factor for either team in the series.

In this context, the upcoming four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be different from the earlier India-Australia clashes were between experienced, well-oiled cricketing machines.

For instance, when India toured Australia in 2004 and 2007-08, the side possessed a batting line-up of jaw-dropping ability.

Days of yore

Those were the days when Rahul Dravid wore down fast and furious attacks with technical purity and strength of mind and the wristy V.V.S. Laxman conjured epics. And Sourav Ganguly’s aggressive in-your-face captaincy added spice to the proceedings.

Crucially, the marauding Virender Sehwag and maestro Sachin Tendulkar were at the peak of their powers. India’s batting line-up was a feared one.

And Anil Kumble, that phenomenal match-winner, prised out batsmen with precision, with just the right amount of spin and bounce. The genial leg-spinner had a heart even bigger than his large frame.

Indeed, when the Aussies visited India, spinners proved winners. The indomitable Steve Waugh sought to conquer the ‘Final Frontier’ in 2001 with his immortal side of match-winners but off-spinner Harbhajan Singh orchestrated a sensational turn-around with his biting turn. Waugh’s quest, underlined by unmistakable cricketing romance, ended in failure.

India, then, was a formidable barrier. The batsmen would make a mountain of runs and the spinners would assume centre-stage with a strong close-in cordon in place. Survival in the middle was hard.

A big deal

The Australians — with the mercurial Adam Gilchrist leading the side in the first three Tests — eventually became the first post-1969 Australian side to win a Test series in India in 2004. Those were the days when defeating India in India was a big deal.

The Australian team of 2004 — Ricky Ponting joined the side for the last Test — was legendary. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer opened the innings while Ponting, Michael Clarke, Damien Martyn, and Gilchrist lent the line-up depth and balance.

Glenn McGrath of laser-guided precision and the fiery Jason Gillespie made life difficult for batsmen and Shane Warne’s leg-spin of flight, spin and deception gave the attack variety; batsmen struggled to settle into a rhythm. That was a line-up of iconic cricketers.

As Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Clarke unveiled the Airtel Border-Gavaskar Trophy here on Wednesday at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, they would have been aware of their sides facing a major test in the coming days.

Clarke has led Australia with aggression and imagination after taking over the reins from Ponting in 2011. Significantly, the Aussies under him triumphed 2-0 in the West Indies and 1-0 in Sri Lanka. In 2011-12, India was blanked 4-0 down under and more recently Sri Lanka was brushed aside 3-0.

There have, however, been setbacks too. Australia went down on a seaming track in Hobart to allow the Kiwis draw a two-Test series 1-1 in 2011 and suffered an agonising 1-0 defeat at home at the hands of South Africa this season.

“We dominated the series for 14 days and one day’s bad cricket cost us the series,” mulled big-hitting opener David Warner, recovering from a thumb injury inflicted by a rising Mitchell Johnson delivery at the nets in WACA.

Australia has a promising bunch of pacemen led by the lion-hearted Peter Siddle, but is seriously short of quality spin on a campaign where the turning ball could be a massive factor.

The side’s batting, without Ponting and Michael Hussey, could be vulnerable in these conditions. Clarke’s expertise against spin — he has decisive footwork, timing and balance — has never been in doubt but the skipper could find himself under tremendous stress each time he walks out.

A difficult life

India has found life difficult ever since the 2011 tour of the West Indies — the side huffed and puffed to a 1-0 series triumph in the Caribbean — after being vanquished 4-0 both in England and Australia. These were embarrassing verdicts, that exposed the shortcomings in all departments of an ageing side.

Worse, the Indians were pushed hard by an inexperienced New Zealand side in the Bangalore Test before edging out the Kiwis for a 2-0 verdict earlier this season. Subsequently, the reverse swing of James Anderson and the spin of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann proved too much for the Indian batsmen in the four Test series in India that the visitor clinched 2-1.

This Australian side already knows India has been overcome at home by a visiting non-sub-continental side in the none too distant past. So, India no longer is the ‘Final Frontier.’

India captain Dhoni’s exterior remains calm but the man will be under the scanner in the days ahead.

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