The raging river is flowing towards the big dam. Will the dam break or will the dam block the river and change the course of all the water down into an abyss? India are that raging river, and they have assumed that form after largely being a drought ridden piece of barren land in the last one year. Australia is that strong dam that has been a constant source of fear for all rivers. When a river aims to barge into the dam, it knows it must change course, and it will be spewed and spitted out by the dam according to a speed decided by the dam, into a free fall. Very rarely do rivers gather energy and momentum enough to topple a dam and take it with it. That’s exactly how the sides match up going into the game, given the history. But there is often a blurring line between history and future, and India would fervently hope that their blistering turn around should see them on the other side of that line, being able to travel from Sydney to Melbourne.
In 2003, when India met Australia in the World Cup, they had won 8 games on the trot, and Sourav Ganguly’s boys were raring to go against the Aussies in the final. Raring to the extent that one of his bowlers, Zaheer Khan decided to sledge Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden into submission, and was instead blown away to shreds by each of the 4 batsmen. The India of 2003, was a strong side, but very visibly knew its limitations when up against a side like Australia. Australia had bowled India out for 125 at Centurion in a league game, and at the Wanderers had marauded India’s bowling to score a gigantic 359/2 (in the age of 220-260 run scores). The only people competing to even chase that were Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. The rest were fortuitously hoping to score a few boundaries and then see where they would be after 40 overs. After 40 overs, they were on the field for the post match presentation ceremony, instead of being in a position to force the chase in the last 10 overs of the match. This Indian team is different. They’ve been beaten all through the summer by Australia and England, but not before keeping the opposition at sixes and sevens, and then allowing an escape route in the name of directionless aggression. They are one of the sides that look capable of challenging Australia, as in 2003, but also look the only side that can beat Australia, apart from New Zealand.
If Australia’s 11 were a menu from a restaurant, it would get lauded on Zomato for the sheer variety it offers. It has 2 athletic fast scoring openers in Finch and Warner. They have a couple of pitch agnostic classic batsmen in Steven Smith and Micheal Clarke, and then come the power hitting mad max cast of Watson, Maxwell, Haddin and Faulkner. You then begin with the bowler’s who spit and spew venom when handed 2 rounded pieces of leather from either ends. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc are the warriors that attack from the front and rip the holes in the armour of the opposition. Josh Hazelwood is the throwback to the days of Glenn McGrath, focusing to bowl line and length and making batsmen commit to playing shots un-called for.
Mitchell Starc takes a wicket of every 15th ball he bowls, which is about 4 wickets for a 10 over spell, at an economy rate of less than 3.75 an over, and at an average of 9.77 runs per wicket. Outstanding would be an understatement to underline his value to Australia’s arsenal. Most of Australia’s fast bowlers, except Pat Cummins concede less than 5.5 an over, which shows the amount of pressure they have created with an aggressive attitude and therefore have restricted the swagger that batsmen have when they face Australia’s top guns. The sluice gates off the bowling have been opened only when Maxwell and Watson have come on to bowl, when runs are leaked at a little over 6 an over, with 7 wickets between them at crucial times. That is a small price to pay, given the quality of wickets that these part timers have been able to price out, ably supporting their lead cast. Case in point, the wicket of Misbah Ul Haq to Maxwell, while Pakistan were slowly re-building their innings at 97/2. That wicket leads to Pakistan collapsing under pressure to a less than respectable total at the end.
Australia carry a cloak of invincibility and an aura of a supreme warrior, that’s out to vanquish lesser forces challenging its warrior status. But they may have some chinks up their armour, which were suddenly there out there in public view. Wahab Riaz opened up Australia at their own game, in bouncing out oppositions with a fearful spell of bowling, gathering pace of the wicket, giving little time for batsmen to convey their instinct from the brain to bodily action. Michael Clarke was caught fending a bouncer, just the same way as England priced him in 2013’s Ashes opener at the Gabba. Shane Watson was sent a barrage of volleys and succumbed to one early on, when he was still vulnerable to the possibilities of fear, but lived to tell a tale of he overcame when he hit the winning runs. So does bouncing out the Aussies work? Well, it does in moderation, as India would know, along with knowing when to pitch the ball up. They lost a test match at the Gabba that they should have won, as they went overboard trying to bounce out Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin. India have regrouped well after a dismal summer, being a side that has picked 80 wickets in the 8 games, and look to be a disciplined unit. India needs to choke runs at one end, and attack at the other end. The game for India has to be won by their bowlers, and their batsmen just play the supporting cast in a clash of aggressive mindsets. Mohit Sharma vs Hazelwood, Umesh Yadav vs Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc vs Mohamed Shami are the real match ups. The folks at the television would be all about batsmen and how orgasmic 350 run pitches would be, which is definitely an opinion, but the real match up is between the bowlers.
A couple of points to note, is that all of India’s bowlers have conceded under 5 an over, except for Ravi Jadeja who’s given 5.5 an over. Shami and Yadav have been the lynchpins, taking a wicket every 3 and 4 overs respectively. On a flat SCG track, India’s batting should feel at home, as long as they back their ability to score, and don’t resort to any false strokes under pressure. India’s batting needs to hold up a couple of more times. Numbers 1-8 have been tested, and they need 2-3 batsmen to hold a long innings, with a cameo in the middle.
9 times out of 10, Australia would win this game, and India would sneak in that one time. I think our luckless summer and the remarkable turnaround has given India the momentum and impetus to push through Australia. I end up picking India to beat Australia, since they very quietly have the bowling and the batting to take the fight to the kangaroos in their own den, just as Pakistan had, but their fielding efforts just let them down.