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India and Australia have much to contemplate


At present the Indian Test team offers a thousand memories and a limited outlook, writes

Peter Roebuck


India and Australia are supposed to be formidable forces preparing to renew a fierce struggle for supremacy. Instead both sides have much on their minds.

More than usual the outcome of the coming series will depend on decisions taken beforehand. It’s not going to be easy for either side to determine its course. Part of sport’s challenge is that the path forward is always unmarked.

As far as the Australians are concerned, the results remain imposing. The West Indies and Bangladesh did not trouble them. Australia remains unyielding and professional. Yet the Sydney Test took a toll. Even now it is hard to understand how an experienced team allowed its mood to darken so suddenly.

Perhaps it was the scream of a side desperate to prove itself. It was, and remains, madness.

Consequences

And the consequences were far reaching. Not long afterwards Brad Hogg had retired from Test cricket. Everyone assumed that he had been offered a deal but it was not so. He’d had enough. It’s been a long time since an accredited Australian cricketer walked so blithely away.

Shaun Tait also stepped aside, temporarily in his case. Wounded by exposure and expectation, he lost confidence and yearned for the shadows.

Cricket can be a humiliating game. His withdrawal reinforced the impression of unease in antipodean ranks. Evidently the Australians had shed an old skin and had not yet grown another one.

Symonds issue

Now Andrew Symonds has been dispatched. Symonds is a funny, private, insecure, stubborn and sensitive man with powerful emotions and growing influence.

When he is angry he expresses himself in furious actions, blasting hundreds or protesting pointedly.

He hated all the palaver around the SCG Test and does not think Bangladesh belong in top class cricket. Its not that he’s wrong, just that frustration makes him self-destructive. He is a senior player and ought to act accordingly.

Brett Lee’s personal problems and Ricky Ponting’s injury add to the impression that the Australians are vulnerable. Certainly it seems that the coach and captain have lost their grip.

But India is also on shaky ground. Already the limited-over side has shrugged off the past and sought vigour and vitality.

Meanwhile the Test team remains unchanged. Everyone recognises that the great men are growing old together.

Opinions vary about the required response. It’s not that any of them are suddenly incapable of taking wicket or scoring runs. All of them, the four middle order batsmen and their combative captain, have the glint of battle in their eyes. Meanwhile younger contenders promise more then they deliver. But youth is never any use till given its head.

Slide is underway

Yet the slow slide is underway. Eventually the mind loses its edge and the ball loses its sting. Fielding and running between wickets become a chore, and concentration lapses more often than previously. As a rule batsmen are at their peak between 28 and 34. Bowlers lose their zip in their early thirties. Ageing cricketers are forced to live on their considerable wits.

Dare India send all five of its elders into battle against the Australians? At present the Test team offers a thousand memories and a limited outlook. But the Australians are coming next month not next year.

And, despite everything, the Indians only lost narrowly last time around. Both camps have much to contemplate. It’s tempting to attach labels, Australia the ruthless, India the sentimental. But these are diversions.

The important thing is to be right. Victory will go to the side that starts the series with a spring in its step.

Perish the thought, but England seems to be the most settled team right now.

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