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India needs to be wary, not worried

Indians must bring their best game or the Australians will trample all over them, writes Peter Roebuck

Anil Kumble and chums need not despair about their prospects in Australia.

Admittedly the cerebral spinner has other things on his mind but he must have been following events Down Under. Despite the drubbing dished out to the ailing Lankans, the Australians have not been completely convincing with the ball. India’s mai n problem might not be the opposition but their belated arrival on the ‘hostile’ continent. To appear a week before the Boxing Day Test tells of an administration more concerned with profits than victories. Nor will the players be fresh.

Dependent on Murali

Australia batted exceptionally well against a lacklustre Sri Lankan attack unduly dependent on a spinner obliged on every occasion to start against the openers.

Most of the Antipodean batsmen tightened their games, matured their minds at counties and came to Test cricket with thousands of runs under their belts. Most of them can read spin from the hand. Neither the occasion nor Murali worried them. Australia’s batting remains strong.

Australia’s bowling is another matter. Despite the marked improvement in Brett Lee, the attack was repulsed for long periods. Yet Sri Lanka’s batting is a fragile mixture of veterans and novices. Amongst the youngsters, Michael Vandort, a limited beanpole, endured for almost an entire day on an admittedly mild Gabba pitch. Amongst the veterans, Marvan Atappatu had not held a bat for three months and was still as hard to remove as chewing gum.

Top draw

Amongst the visiting batsmen, only Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara belong in the highest class and both scored centuries.

Jayawardene was superb in the first innings in Hobart, choosing his shots with quite conviction and keeping the ball on the ground. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka’s esteemed leader, few of his team-mates were able to keep him company.

Also the local bowlers had plenty of runs at their disposal so the pressure was always on their opponents. In both matches the host batted and produced daunting totals. India must try to take charge from the outset.

Sangakkara was impressive. A sore hamstring forced him to miss the first Test and batting was a distant memory by the time he reached Tasmania, yet he scored 67 and 192.

Mixing well

Along the way he proved that it is possible to possible to mix with the Australians without appearing weak, to fight in an apparently doomed cause, take the team within distant sight of victory and yourself to the borders of 200, get a rough decision and still laugh and shake hands and console not yourself but the errant umpire.

During the match he had supper with opponents, encouraged his team-mates and relished the opportunity to play against the champions. Not for him the hangdog look seen in some touring teams. He turned up ready to play.

Clearly Australia’s bowling held no terrors for accomplished batsmen, and India has an abundance of them. Stuart Macgill has a wonky knees and may withdraw. Brett Lee led the attack with vim and versatility. Evidently he has learnt a lot about reverse swing from Troy Cooley. England was foolish to let him slip through its hands.

Lee’s command of reverse swing was demonstrated in his removal of Jayawardene with a delivery that snaked back too late to permit second thoughts. His cohorts were persistent as opposed to penetrating.

To compete, India must bring its best game. Otherwise the Australians will trample all over them. It’s not enough for a few players to shine. Nor is it any use grizzling about pitches or press or umpires or crowds or luck. Sangakkara has shown the way forward.

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