The Australians will do their ravaged image a world of good if they pull off a win

In recent years, Test cricket has faced some challenging times. Dwindling audience, falling standards and predictable results are such a sharp contrast to the fascinating days when fans would wait and prepare for five days of cricket, engrossing mostly, mundane sometimes.

Test cricket, as players would vouch, was the ultimate. They still believe it is the ultimate but there is a perceptible decline in the combative nature of the contests.

The disturbing trend of teams excelling only in home conditions has led to a monotonous course in Test cricket. An overseas win becomes a huge event for celebration, but it can’t hide the fact that some players are good only in specific conditions. Being a batsman’s game, such specific evaluation applies mostly to batsmen. The bowlers often find a way to make their mark.

Cricket, in different eras, has seen characters who have defied traditions, set mind-blowing benchmarks, achieved reputations built on the sheer strength of will and skill. We have known batsmen who never lost sleep over the nature of the pitch, bowlers who shone on placid surfaces. There have been some fascinating individuals and teams, worthy of earning legendary status.

Dull cricket

As the India-Australia series enters its final phase, there is not much to reflect on the quality of competition. Some reputations have been dented, some born, but overall the matches have failed to justify the hype that preceded the series.

If the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was expected to be a competition between two classy rivals, this series has fallen flat. One team has dominated, there has been no contest really and Test cricket has rarely looked so dry.

Actually, the Australians have come to dread the sight of a dry pitch. Chennai, Hyderabad and Mohali have been nightmares for the Australian batsmen, who capitulated to average spinners. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja is India’s best slow bowler. Rajinder Singh Hans, a national selector now, must wonder if he practised an inferior art. He never played a Test despite being a fine performer.

Huge impact

It is a reflection of the times too, that Shikhar Dhawan makes a huge impact in a season when he has not been at his best. The Test slot came his way because the selectors backed him, at 27, after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir fell from grace.

Dhawan grabbed the chance, pulverised the Australian attack with an astonishing assault, exposing the opponents’ mediocre bowling. The Delhi batsman was breathtaking but the Australians were remarkably sloppy in countering his charge.

India initiated new players in helpful conditions. There is nothing wrong, they say, in preparing doctored pitches. You have to play fast bowling and spin too to be acknowledged as a complete batsman. India has a few overseas assignments that would put this series in perspective. The gains here will be tested there.

The gains for Indian cricket in the long innings that Sachin Tendulkar has played may never be measured. The elder statesman of international cricket will be playing possibly his last Test on Indian soil. A hundred from him could be a fitting climax to a great career.

Uninspiring ambience

The Ferozeshah Kotla lacks cricket culture despite being one of the oldest centres, the pitch and the ambience uninspiring, for players and spectators.

In such a background, the Australians will do their ravaged image a world of good if they pull off a win. They can, if there is a collective effort, but the team has refused to learn its lessons.

It can, however, rebuild its camp. The availability of Shane Watson and fast bowler James Pattinson raises hopes of a combat.

India loses 0-4 in Australia but wins 4-0 in India. One-sided matches not at all good for Test cricket. If the spectators stay away, don’t blame them!

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Pragyan Ojha and Ashoke Dinda.

Australia: Michael Clarke (capt.), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith.

Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan).

Third umpire: S. Ravi. Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle(Sri Lanka).

Play starts at 9.30 a.m.

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