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India is stronger this time

India has no reason to be afraid, writes Peter Roebuck

— Photo: AFP

STRETCHED: Anil Kumble — reaching for the ball during a practice session in Melbourne on Friday — has a team which can pose some problems for the Australians.

Four years ago Sourav Ganguly produced one of the game’s finest fighting innings as he stood firm in the face of the Australian onslaught. His hundred in Brisbane was full of audacious backfoot strokes that belied a reputation for fragility against pace.

The Bengali went toe to toe with the Australians in a thrilling display that rallied his troops. He believed in the cause and instilled hope in his players.

In the overused phrase, it was a captain’s innings and his team responded with a fearless display that rattled the Australians so much that they were grateful to escape with a drawn series. Now India returns for another crack at the Aussies. Although the team has arrived recklessly late it also must believe in itself. Take a backward step in Australia and it is over.

India has no reason to be afraid. If anything the team is stronger this time around. Ganguly’s side carried a youthful keeper whilst Sachin Tendulkar had a poor series until he redeemed himself in the final Test in Sydney. Nor was the pace bowling as lively as it appears in 2007/8.

Hardly a wicket was taken with the new ball till Ajit Agarkar suddenly plucked a rabbit from his hat in Adelaide. Amongst the most improbable of cricketers, Agarkar routed the Australians with swing.

It is important to move the ball against these batsmen not least as a way of putting doubt in their minds. It is likewise vital to place mid-off deeper and straighter than usual to encourage bowlers to pitch the ball up.

Now India arrives with a powerful gloveman, a long batting order and a confident outlook. Alone amongst teams touring, it knows it can look the Australians in the eye.

Other sides make all the right noises but lack intent. India speaks modestly but has happy memories.

Relaxed

All of the batsmen have scored runs against these opponents and several of the bowlers have taken wickets. Also the Indians are more relaxed than other visitors. Far from their madding crowd, they can concentrate on their cricket.

Ganguly himself has a part to play in the forthcoming hostilities. Discarded as captain, and consigned to the scrapheap as a batsman, he has fought back with beguiling tenacity. Accordingly India is able to field a batting order full of class and experience.

Anil Kumble has seven batsmen in form plus Virender Sehwag, a rousing cricketer whose robust batting is highly regarded down under.

Doubtless the selectors are scratching their heads about their best batting order but it is a change to have a choice. Other teams arrive carrying more passengers than a tuc-tuc.

Australians expose inept players in five minutes and then turn the screws on the rest. In every respect it is a confronting country. But these Indians are used to that.

Indeed they enjoy the challenge and appreciate the excellent facilities. Attitude is everything. Much rests upon the ability of the older hands to score runs. Last time around Ganguly led the way and Rahul Dravid and Sehwag responded magnificently.

Admittedly these fellows are longer in the tooth but the glint has not left their eye.

Moreover the local giants have retired, or rather signed up for T20 which, these days is much the same thing.

The Indians will also have noticed that Sri Lanka’s only top-class batsmen scored hundreds in their recent series and will feel that the deed can be done. Last time around India conquered fear in the first Test. Melbourne awaits a similar display of fortitude.

If India arises on Boxing Day then anything is possible.

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