Australia may have retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy, but there still seem to be too many things at stake in the Adelaide test starting tomorrow. India has a chance to end with a 2-2 scoreline and thus enable this series to lay claim as one of the tightest contests ever. Australia, on the other hand, will go all out to prove that they can be nice and win. That’s as far as the cricket on the field is concerned. There’s as much, if not more, off the field as well.
The “monkey-calling” hearing comes up a day after the test, and the response to it could well be governed by the Adelaide, and hence the series, result. It will be a matter of eternal debate, but the correlation between the series result and the hearing verdict is bound to be discussed at least until the next big controversy.
The big five of Indian cricket – Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman – are surely playing their last test match in the country they have thrilled and tormented in equal measure over the years. And considering only Tendulkar is staying back for the one-dayers, the others will be stepping on to an Australian ground for the final time. And the likes of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist may be facing off against India in the test arena for the last time as well.
Well, the match is just a few hours away, but the game is already on. Ricky Ponting is trying his best to hide his grin when he claims that Australia has not ruled out Shaun Tait from the playing eleven. So the Australian eleven is clear then – Brad Hogg for Tait and Matthew Hayden back in for Chris Rogers.
The Indians, on the other hand, don’t necessarily possess Ponting’s media savviness and sense of humour, so when they make noises about playing five bowlers, you tend to take them a bit more seriously and worry. I hope sanity prevails come match day morning and they get back to their 6 + Dhoni + 4 composition.
The old adage says that if you can’t win with six batsmen, you can’t do so with seven either. I think the same applies to the bowling as well – if four bowlers are not good enough, a fifth isn’t going to turn the tables for you. One of them is likely to be under-bowled any way.
Moreover, look at the imbalance that a five bowler line-up creates for India. If Wasim Jaffer is dropped for Harbhajan, India starts with one opener short. Revert to Dravid as opener? That, I reckon, was one of the key factors that cost India the first two tests. And Dravid at No. 3 was also a key player in the WACA win. What about Irfan Pathan as opener? Pathan’s decline before the recent comeback can be attributed quite a bit to his ever-changing position in the batting order in the Greg Chappell regime. Does India want to re-live that all over again?
Hype and tripe aside, India will have to focus on the game to the exclusion of the previous one as far as selection goes. And there really is only one change India needs to make. Draft Harbhajan Singh in for Ishant Sharma (their job expectations are similar, aren’t they – just get Ponting out?). I know Jaffer hasn’t quite been a success on this tour, but getting a low-on-big-match-practice Dinesh Karthik into such a pressure cooker atmosphere isn’t a great idea either.
There is another, more daring option if India dares to think unconventional. Drop Jaffer for Harbhajan, and bring in Karthik for MS Dhoni. Did I hear gasps of shock, awe and horror? Look at it objectively. Karthik is as good a wicket-keeper as Dhoni, and though he was not an opener by choice, he has moulded himself into an adhesive one over the last few seasons, and an adhesive partner to the slippery Virender Sehwag could be just what the doctor ordered for India. And it might just be the spur required to get a glorious swansong century from Sourav Ganguly.
Anil Kumble is known to be a cool-headed man. Tomorrow morning, when he exchanges team lists with Ricky Ponting, we will know whether the heat of the occasion has got to him.
So how will the next five days pan out? As the good lord quite often decides, the more the hype, the less the real excitement. So we could well be in for a damp squib of a game, in the form of a high-scoring draw, more likely a rain-affected draw or, most likely a ruthless one-sided victory for Australia, as they lay the marker for the next 16-test winning streak.