MS Dhoni does well to avoid the sports pages. They tend to either offer a sense of abject failure or an illusion of invincibility. And the Indian captain is neither seeking a glittering crown nor a cap of horns. He’s happy wearing his cynical hat as he negotiates his way along yet another unpredictable journey.
His aloofness remains intact as evidenced by his refusal to gush despite repeated unsubtle promptings by Ravi Shastri in the post-match interview. He is probably amused at the speed with which some others have cast aside their doubts. After almost two years of painting him and his team in various shades of black and blue, several previously-strident observers have now concluded, based on the result of the first Test, that if all things remain equal – a spin-friendly wicket, similar line-ups and no sudden reappearance of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey – the outcome of the following matches can only be favourable to India.
Thankfully, many of us – fans and players alike – know better than to presume. We are those who’ve learnt to be sceptical about all things Indian cricket, with good reason. But even beyond the general angst and recent history (India’s infamous downslide after winning the first Test against England), it would take a whole lot of naivety to not acknowledge that this is more of an even contest than is being portrayed.
Firstly, India’s win, though being touted as a team effort, is really the story of two standout performances – Dhoni and R Ashwin. Take away the Indian captain’s double ton, importantly made at double speed, and you have little to choose between the two batting performances. Their lower order, as shown by the likes of Moises Henriques, has more backbone than the home side’s and, on current form, Michael Clarke is clearly the best batsmen across both the teams. The openers struggled uniformly and there were some useful contributions from both the middle orders alike. You would be hard-pressed to call it anything but a tie.
The bowling, too, was largely a one-man show for India, especially in the first innings. Australia, on the other hand, not only had the sharpness of James Pattinson rattling the Indians but an effective Nathan Lyon who is only likely to become more dangerous as he figures out the line that works best in Indian conditions. Unless Harbhajan Singh replenishes his arsenal, just a greater number of spinners will only help in keeping the Australians quiet, and not much else.
But beyond this simplistic skills comparison, the real strength of this Australian team, much like many of its predecessors, was shown in the manner in which the game was lost. What has riled many regular followers of the Indian team in its recent failures is not just the fact that they were defeated but the utter lack of fight when the battle got tougher. At no stage of the Australian effort was there a lapse of belief or a sense that they had given up. Had a couple of sessions been won, the result could have been different. For the most part, there was a battle of wills that makes them the most watchable Test team in the world.
This is why I believe the high-pitched noise over the, well, pitches is misguided in its tenor. I would go so far as to say that the ‘home advantage’ in terms of tailor-made pitches is what makes it a fair battle.
More than any other team, and even with the obvious deficiencies in their resources, Australia has the ability to turn things around. India knows that the 8-wicket win in the first Test is all very well but this is an opposition that doesn’t lose badly, no matter what the margin of defeat suggests.
The author writes on popular culture, cricket and whatever else takes her fancy