Indian Cricket Fever
History Beckons at SCG
By Gaurang
December 31 2018

As the celebrations surrounding India’s retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the New Year’s fireworks over the picturesque Sydney Harbor fade, Virat Kohli and Team India have a tryst with destiny at the venerable Sydney Cricket Ground, where they will attempt to become the first Indian Test side to win a series in Australia going back to the very first Indian visit right after Independence in 1947-48.   

Sydney is where Virat Kohli began his stint as the full-time Indian Test captain. Mahendra Singh Dhoni retired from Test cricket in the middle of the series and officially handed Kohli the reigns in Sydney at the start of 2015.  In that match India were down 0-2 coming into the game and barely hung on for a draw.  Now exactly four years later Kohli leads his team with a 2-1 advantage and pressing hard for victory. 

Sydney is also where India came closest to conquering the final frontier in the past, when in 2004 Sourav Ganguly and his merry men, smashed Australia for 705 runs for 7 declared, still the highest innings score by any visiting side in Austalia in nearly 150 years.  India lost only 9 wickets in that match and scored over 900 runs, but Australia, through a combination of grit and umpiring bias escaped with a draw and the series tied 1-1.  Thus, it is indeed fitting that Sydney is the setting for the final Test. 

While the cards are stacked in favor of India, with Sydney usually having the least amount of bounce and pace, and the most amount of spin of any ground in Australia, India cannot be complacent and allow Australia to claw back and tie the series 2-2.  However, it is Australia who have to chase the game here and press for a victory.  India can sit back and draw the match and still make history by winning the series.   

In light of this, and the general nature of the Sydney wicket it makes a lot of sense to bolster the Indian line up with the twin spin of the two Ravis, Jadeja and Ashwin, who if fit, should replace one of either Ishant or Shami, with Bumrah being indispensable.  The absence of Rohit Sharma who returns to India for the birth of his first child opens up the number six spot for Hardik Pandya  who can support the two front line quicks with his swing and pace, though Sydney is generally not particularly helpful to swing and instead requires a hit the deck type of fast bowler.  

Whether the team management picks Ishant or Shami or Pandya will depend on how much they value going for a win versus being satisfied with a draw.  The frontline quicks will be more penetrative, but that must be balanced against the fact that they will also be pretty tired after bowling so many overs in such a short period of time in the first three Tests.  Of course, Pandya will also bring much more in terms of ability to contribute with the bat than either Ishant or Shami.  Besides this problem of plenty in the bowling department, India seem pretty settled.  They are unlikely to disturb the new opening pair of Agarwal and Vihari who provided such solidity at the top of the innings.

Meanwhile Australia with the failure of Mitchell Marsh, particularly with the bat, have a lot of issues relating to a lack of resources.   Their top order is proving to be incredibly brittle, and needs bolstering, but there seems to be no obvious candidate for elevation.  This is due to the fact that Australian domestic cricket has been in decline for about a decade, coinciding with Cricket Australia’s elevation of the Big Bash League Twenty20 tournament and scheduling it right in the heart of the Australian cricket season.  It may be good for their bottom line but it has been disastrous for Australian Test batting.  They have been papering over the cracks through the talents of Steve Waugh and David Warner, but in their absence these fissures are glaring.

Virat Kohli’s post game comments after the win at MCG about the strength of India’s Ranji Trophy tournament was not only a nice reply to the ignorant jibe by the Aussie commentator, Kerry O’Keefe, about the quality of bowling in Indian domestic cricket, but also a reminder that India still values its First Class cricket enough to separate it from the IPL which is played at the END of the Indian cricket season and does not interfere with it.  Cricket Australia could do well to follow the BCCI in this aspect and make sure that the First Class season does not overlap with the BBL.  Otherwise it is inevitable that Australian Test batting will start declining rapidly towards an Outback Steakhouse XI level.