It’s hard to get on top Down Under and an opportunity is not to be spurned, writesPeter Roebuck
As far as Indian cricket is concerned, it has been a case of one step forward and one step backwards.
Anil Kumble and his men have deservedly won a series against a respected opponent but the margin of victory was reduced by timidity.
Dilip Vengsarkar and his selectors have chosen their strongest side for the forthcoming trip ‘Down Under’ but now must meet the challenge of putting the best eleven on the field. It will not be an easy task with eight accomplished batsman vying for six positions.
Doubtless Kumble was determined to make victory safe on the fifth day of the final Test. Despite his experience he is an unproven captain and the last thing he wanted was to take an unnecessary risk.
But the series had been secured by lunchtime as India led by 301 with two sessions left to play. By allowing the Indian innings to continue he was merely wasting time.
The extra runs were useless and the thirty minutes squandered allowed Pakistan to escape the noose. Bad light helped but that should have been anticipated.
Striking the right balance, between attack and defence, counts amongst the hardest tasks facing any new captain. Moreover India was playing a local derby with an occasionally hostile neighbour.
Nevertheless Kumble erred on the side of caution and must change his outlook in Australia. It’s hard enough to get on top Down Under and the opportunity is not to be spurned. Any team that takes a dominant position against the Australians must resist the temptation to consolidate.
Kumble must also learn when to listen to his senior players and when to ignore them.
On the other hand, Kumble displayed tactical acumen on the field. Throwing the ball to Yuvraj and trying seamers himself revealed an unexpectedly un-conventional streak. Plainly the Bangalorean can think on his feet.
Rahul David did something similar in the fourth innings against the Australians in Mumbai a few years ago. Everyone expected him to rely on Kumble on a crumbling pitch but instead he tried his slower spinners and was rewarded as Murali Kartik skittled a startled opponent.
Kumble must also manage himself as a bowler. It is not always the easiest of tasks. Fortunately he has always been a lion-hearted type prepared to take the fight to the opposition whatever the score. Certainly he has never nursed his figures.
His challenge is to split himself into two characters so that Kumble the captain can handle Kumble the bowler with the required objectivity.
The selectors have chosen the right team for India. Recalling Virender Sehwag and including some tall young pacemen are steps in the right direction.
Sehwag’s ability to attack the Australian pacemen could be crucial. At his best he is a fearless batsman suited to hard pitches and capable of taking advantage of the aggressive fields usually set by his opponents.
Nor was there much point bringing scared bowlers. Australians spread vegemite on them and have them for breakfast.
Naming the team for the Boxing Day Test will be an altogether more awkward proposition. Australia is expected to unleash a bombardment but the Melbourne pitch has been slow. Shaun Tait is likely to play and has been sending down thunderbolts.
Strong opening pair
India needs a strong opening pair and a top-class middle order. Everyone has been in form. Only one practice match has been arranged.
Only Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar can be regarded as certainties. At such times possession is nine-tenths of the law.
Amongst the bowlers, India must play a balanced attack containing a strong left-armer and seamers able to swing the ball.