Se­ries Pre­view: In­dian Takeaway

takeaway

Inside Sport - - Contents - BY ROBERT DRANE

What hap­pens when In­dia’s road woes meet a de­pleted Aus­tralian line-up? That’s the ques­tion that will be an­swered this sum­mer.

The In­di­ans have a Hindi phrase for a “bad trip”: buri ya­tra. We’re guess­ing it’s been used a bit lately, as the world’s no.1 Test team has trav­elled dis­mally. Aus­tralia, on the other hand, can be for­given for think­ing they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a bad trip of an­other kind, and wouldn’t mind wak­ing up from it any­time soon. It will make for an in­ter­est­ing en­counter.

Aus­tralians and In­di­ans have al­ways served their cricket in en­tirely dis­tinct ways: Aus­tralia with a meaty siz­zle, In­dia a spicy tang. The dif­fer­ence ex­presses it­self in the way a shot is made, a ball is spun, a press con­fer­ence is con­ducted, or how pol­i­tics man­i­fests it­self. Cricket fil­ters through two com­pletely di­verse cul­tures and serves vary­ing pur­poses, takes on dif­fer­ent guises, in each.

Still, it’s cricket, and cricket’s a su­perb gen­er­a­tor of sto­ries. And don’t we all love a good story? The Aus­tralia-In­dia ri­valry has, over the decades, spawned drama: the Chen­nai tie, “Mon­key­gate”, Simp­son’s come­back, the ’69 ri­ots, Mum­bai 2001, Gilly’s win in 2004. There are many more. In the realm of cricket, these fe­ro­cious ri­vals have a shared lan­guage, com­mon folk­lore. The colour­ful 2017 edi­tion, printed in In­dia and fea­tur­ing Steve Smith, might have been part one of a brand-new se­ries of sto­ries, but for the fact that sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ters have been writ­ten out.

These se­ries gen­er­ally have more colour than a Hindu tem­ple. Will this one? For the sec­ond time in four years, the In­di­ans ar­rive at a time of cri­sis for the Aussies. Its cause – or was it a symp­tom? – was the ball-tam­per­ing af­fair in South Africa. The em­bers from that bush­fire are prov­ing more deadly than the event it­self as they gen­tly alight, one by one, on the com­bustible eu­ca­lypts of Aus­tralian cricket.

Aus­tralian batting was in trou­ble be­fore Smith and David Warner were barred; the en­tropic forces act­ing on first-class cricket have sud­denly emerged in a Test team that cur­rently seems to have few of the means to do what win­ning Test teams do.

QUES­TION­ABLE CHAR­AC­TER?

It’s dif­fi­cult to know how this Aussie team will go. In this year-zero for Aus­tralian cricket, what can we go on? They played Pak­istan on the des­ic­cated wick­ets of the United Arab Emi­rates and, as al­ways, as any­one, strug­gled. In­dia lost a hard-fought se­ries in Eng­land, then whipped the West Indies on the sub­con­ti­nent. But that’s par for the course – their tenth con­sec­u­tive home vic­tory, given their per­for­mances else­where, tells us noth­ing.

There are in­tan­gi­bles in the Aus­tralian team now. Un­fore­seen changes have oc­curred; ghosts grad­u­ally take form. The fight­ing draw in the UAE for ex­am­ple: was it some sort of turn­ing point? Even a tip­ping point? It seemed so for a few days, un­til the Sec­ond Test, when it looked more like a cap­siz­ing than a tip­ping. Were we wit­ness­ing a thor­ough­bred foal strug­gling to its feet un­der the watch­ful eye of its Bart Cum­mings, or just ugly un­gain­li­ness?

Though it’s prob­a­bly too early to ask whether we’ve al­ready given new coach Justin Langer too much credit for lit­tle re­turn, many ask it any­way. The Aussies foundered in in­fer­tile con­di­tions un­der Dar­ren Lehmann, but he was do­ing his level best to turn it around. Has some­thing changed un­der Langer? Were the Aussies’ trou­bles over there in the past as much to do with im­pal­pa­ble at­tributes as the art and sci­ence of tech­nique? Is Langer some­how bet­ter equipped to mar­shal these in­cor­po­real forces?

What­ever it is he brings, it’s con­ta­gious. Tim Paine, al­ready a leader of men, seems to have found a con­text in this new team. Paine’s cap­taincy wasn’t per­fect. Cer­tainly, his use of his fast-bowlers and the new ball drew heavy crit­i­cism that would have gained stri­dency had the team lost that first Test. The spir­ited draw can­celled it out, and Paine’s very own rear­guard fight, added to his post-match com­ments, worked in his favour. He re­buked his team for cel­e­brat­ing the stale­mate, mind­ful, per­haps, of a cer­tain

as­tute English cap­tain in 2005, who noted sim­i­lar scenes on the Aus­tralian bal­cony af­ter a thrilling dead­lock, stored it and fash­ioned it into bul­lets. Langer him­self was part of that Aus­tralian team.

Putting aside the abysmal Sec­ond

Test for a mo­ment, where the loss might be at­trib­uted to a se­ries of poor de­ci­sions, fail­ure to cap­i­talise on fleet­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and two key in­juries, we might have wit­nessed a water­shed in the short­lived life of this par­tic­u­lar team, but per­haps also in the life of Aus­tralian cricket. This new dogged­ness springs from a new spirit of sports­man­ship – a hard-head­ed­ness mixed with big-heart­ed­ness that should never have just been squared off to “feel-good” events such as the In­vic­tus Games.

Langer has had a bit more time to work with the team since then and knows how to make lemon­ade from the lemons of loss. The play­ers are, re­as­sur­ingly, be­ing hard on them­selves and re­solv­ing to im­prove. This new style of cussed­ness is decked out dif­fer­ently, as it was bound to be un­der Langer. The dress is neat ca­sual. The ma­te­rial shall be Kevlar. This team has pre­vailed in one tough Test, and been thrashed in an­other. They’ve been to the brink to­gether and, through in­tro­spec­tion, have in­creased self-knowl­edge.

Re­cent pub­lic ut­ter­ances from Paine and Nathan Lyon ex­ude this new un­der­stand­ing. They now un­der­stand they have no lau­rels to rest on; they will need to scrap for every morsel of suc­cess. Ul­ti­mately – “ul­ti­mately” seems a long way off in their case – char­ac­ter trans­lates into vic­tory of some sort. As South African great AB de Vil­liers rightly pointed out in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, those with tal­ent are judged by pos­ter­ity nowhere near as favourably as those with fight. Langer him­self em­bod­ies that truth. He’ll make them fight.

That’s at­ti­tude taken care of. But at­ti­tude needs com­ple­men­tary ap­ti­tude. We’re hop­ing this new com­bat­ive­ness doesn’t take them from bullish brats to stub­born sprats: tena­cious, but tiny in terms of tal­ent.

If char­ac­ter is enough to turn this Aussie team around, then their UAE so­journ, re­gard­less of the re­sult, re­sem­bles preparation of sorts com­pared with In­dia’s six-day dod­dle to the cor­ner shop against the West Indies.

Like a good spar­ring ses­sion, the Pak­istan se­ries quickly en­abled the Aus­tralians to dis­cover their lim­its. In­dian cricket’s play­ers and me­dia make much of achieve­ments like ten con­sec­u­tive home se­ries wins. Let’s hope they don’t pack smug­ness in their lug­gage. Af­ter all, Aus­tralia’s woes are mainly con­fined to their batting. At home, they have the mu­ni­tions to dev­as­tate any delu­sional or del­i­cate batting line-up.

So those are the in­tan­gi­bles. Now for em­piri­cism. We see two very dif­fer­ent batting line-ups, in two very dif­fer­ent places. In­dia’s top-six might not be click­ing as a col­lec­tive abroad, but it’s es­tab­lished and re­plete with cham­pi­ons and prospects. They’ve been in­fal­li­ble at home and gen­er­ally un­flap­pable, de­spite tech­ni­cal fail­ures. Aus­tralia’s top-six are, at this stage, nei­ther – al­though the Langer fac­tor seems to have gone a long way to­ward in­still­ing some sangfroid in our spe­cial­ists.

Can the coach in­stil tal­ent? Look, let’s face it: Aus­tralia’s batting is the pachy­derm in the par­lour. Does it have the abil­ity at all not just to make a good ac­count of it­self, but to post big, match-win­ning Test scores, and in good time? With Warner and Smith in the or­der, this was not only prob­a­ble, but likely a lot of the time.

THE FIGHT­ING DRAW IN THE UAE: WAS IT SOME SORT OF TURN­ING POINT? EVEN A TIP­PING POINT? IT SEEMED SO UN­TIL THE SEC­OND TEST, WHEN IT LOOKED MORE LIKE A CAP­SIZ­ING THAN A TIP­PING.

Aus­tralia’s se­lec­tors lack choice. The first-class land­scape is de­cid­edly bar­ren. They now rely on play­ers they might once have sum­mar­ily despatched. Of course, scarcity also presents op­por­tu­nity. The un­stint­ingly pos­i­tive Langer sees it that way, but the old bats­man knows that ev­ery­thing from the chore­og­ra­phy of the crease to the de­ploy­ment of de­fen­sive and at­tack­ing weaponry needs reap­praisal.

Is Aaron Finch a Test opener? He’s pop­u­lar, and has great qual­i­ties as a team man. But no one is more alone than an open­ing bats­man, and the suf­fi­ciency of his par­tic­u­lar range of skills is un­proven. He got solid scores on de­but in the UAE, but seemed to erode, slice-by-slice, un­der the an­gle-grinder of Mo­ham­mad Ab­bas.

Four years ago, In­side Cricket wrote of Finch's prospects at Test level: “has the na­tive at­tributes: a sharp eye, range of shots and great re­ac­tion. He’s also the archetype of the batting blade. A risk-taker and the hard­est of hitters. But even Warner con­structs an in­nings, ac­cord­ing to his own fre­netic sched­ule. He’s like the builder who erects the frame be­fore lunch and, re­mark­ably, it’s un­shake­able, com­pli­ant and per­fectly ready for the weight it’s to bear. A 100-plus Warner in­nings, or at the very least part­ner­ship, done these days with neat brisk­ness, is the foun­da­tion for a 500-plus team score.”

Aus­tralia needs Finch to serve Warner’s pur­pose. It’s not im­pos­si­ble. As Warner’s part­ner in the one-day team, he was an in­dis­pens­able mem­ber of the Blitz Brothers. We now know his batting has sub­tleties not called upon in cricket’s trun­cated forms. He needs time to em­bed those tal­ents into the long-form game.

The most vis­i­ble im­prove­ment, in at­ti­tude, tech­nique and un­der­stand­ing, is that of Usman Khawaja. His suc­cess in the UAE seemed the re­sult of some kind of per­sonal epiphany. If Aus­tralia’s cur­rent top-six boasts any­one world-class, Usman is our man, on form. His torn meniscus might prove to be a big blow if he doesn’t re­cover in time for the se­ries.

In the ab­sence of Smith and Warner, the Marsh brothers have been forced to fill du­ties higher in the or­der, just when it seemed they might make the five and six spots their own. The re­sult has had a de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar flavour.

If ever there was a time for Shaun to take re­spon­si­bil­ity and de­velop con­sis­tency, it’s now. He’s proved he can har­ness his tal­ents long enough to score a ton or two in a se­ries. Mitch needs to con­tinue his rise as a bats­man. He’ll still be called upon oc­ca­sion­ally to bowl, de­spite his as­sess­ment of the op­por­tu­nity cost of do­ing both. He’s made it known, and proved, that he might have a bright fu­ture as a spe­cial­ist. But those av­er­ages since the Ashes se­ries (14 and 16 re­spec­tively) are be­gin­ning to an­noy the crick­et­ing pub­lic.

Travis Head? Mar­nus Labuschagne? Again, we quote In­side Cricket: “There are new routes to Test cricket, and more ro­bust fame. But one thing hasn’t changed: the very best still don’t just peck their way out of the egg and into his­tory.”

Qual­i­ties like those demon­strated by Labuschagne are re­quired, but they come with a first-class av­er­age in the 30s. A cold, sci­en­tific eye will not an­tic­i­pate the sort of trans­for­ma­tion he and Head might un­dergo un­der a man like Langer, but it’s way too pre­ma­ture for us to make that sort of judge­ment. Cer­tainly, Labuschagne’s leg-spin has been a rev­e­la­tion, and he seems com­fort­able with the all-rounder role.

Glenn Maxwell has so far been ig­nored and, as I write, is now trapped in one of

IF AUS­TRALIA’S CUR­RENT TOP SIX BOASTS ANY­ONE WORLD CLASS, USMAN IS OUR MAN, ON FORM. HIS TORN MENISCUS MIGHT PROVE TO BE A BIG BLOW

those ab­surd cy­cles of mod­ern cricket – told by Langer to go and get first-class runs to guar­an­tee Test se­lec­tion, he’s missed the start of Vic­to­ria’s Shield sea­son be­cause he’s in the UAE pre­par­ing for in­con­se­quen­tial one-day­ers and T20s. Langer can­not pos­si­bly have failed to iden­tify the ef­fects of this self-dis­solv­ing rea­son­ing over the last few years as cricket boards have tried to give equal weight to ev­ery­thing at once. It’s been mor­bidly fas­ci­nat­ing; log­i­cal au­tol­y­sis at its best.

Though the Aus­tralian batting line-up now has very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s en­veloped in a new wis­dom, so this In­dian se­ries might be as good an op­por­tu­nity as any to fast-track the in­ex­pe­ri­enced but ac­com­plished Will Pu­cov­ski. His re­cent 254 against WA was dash­ing and care­fully con­structed. He also showed a cer­tain amount of doughti­ness af­ter be­ing hit on the head last March while batting, be­com­ing the first bats­man to be re­placed un­der the con­cus­sion sub rule.

But there’s no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence. Warner and Smith had a com­bined 138 Tests of the stuff. They also hap­pened to be two of the world’s very best bats­men. Aus­tralia needs them back. Matt Ren­shaw, per­haps Finch’s per­fect foil, and pos­si­bly Peter Hand­scomb, both have the ap­proach Langer is look­ing for, and de­serve per­sis­tence at home. They must come into the se­lec­tors’ cal­cu­la­tions.

In­dia’s top-six are, as men­tioned ear­lier, very good but look­ing more xeno­pho­bic as time goes on. Only Vi­rat Kohli and Chetesh­war Pu­jara (in flashes) im­pressed in Eng­land. Both can get runs in Aus­tralia. KL Rahul and Ajinkya Ra­hane have scored well Down Un­der.

Ear­lier in 2018 in South Africa, In­dia’s batting looked ex­posed. It’s not that they were self-doubt­ing or lack­ing tech­nique. They sim­ply couldn’t get the likes of Morkel, Rabada, Steyn and Phi­lan­der away, no mat­ter how they tried. On that and the sub­se­quent Eng­land tour, Kohli av­er­aged over 50. The rest were in the teens. The records of Rahul, Pu­jara, Ra­hane, Mu­rali Vi­jay, Shikhar Dhawan and Ro­hit Sharma have been slim in­deed.

Here’s a clue for Aus­tralia: nei­ther South Africa nor Eng­land bat­ted all that well against In­dia. It was their fast-bowlers who re­stricted, and then up­rooted, In­dia’s bats­men. In­dian cricket scribe Ayaz

Me­mon de­scribed their cur­rent batting com­po­nent as “fair-weather feath­erbed mae­stros”. Here, the term we use is flat­track bul­lies.

Kohli has iden­ti­fied it as a “men­tal is­sue”. His­tory shows this might not change. The re­verse side of that In­dian abil­ity to pro­duce wins from nowhere is the odd ten­dency to disengage half­way through an ar­du­ous tour if it all seems too hard.

Sav­age de­ter­mi­na­tion seems con­fined to Kohli right now. In Ade­laide in 2014-15, his sec­ond-in­nings cen­tury meant noth­ing to him at the time. He had eyes only for the re­quired to­tal, and vic­tory. Many team­mates seem to lack that mind­set. Tal­ent, com­bined with am­bi­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion, wins Tests be­cause it makes for great play­ers. If Kohli proved any­thing on that tour, it’s that any suc­cess­ful team needs a crit­i­cal mass of those at­tributes, not a one-man show. Abil­ity needs sta­bil­ity; ap­ti­tude, at­ti­tude.

Kohli has made telling com­ments about In­dia’s batting in Aus­tralia. He wants 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw here, de­spite his ten­der years. And who can blame him? Shaw’s con­fi­dence and ag­gres­sion might be a youth thing, but he’s been a thrilling run-get­ter, and, un­leashed, has al­lowed the es­tab­lished stars in In­dia’s line-up an op­por­tu­nity to re­lax and con­cen­trate on ac­cu­mu­la­tion. If he can con­tinue such form here, In­dia’s top or­der might gain a new lease on life – an ef­fect Kohli is hop­ing for.

Shaw won man-of-the-se­ries on his el­e­va­tion to Test level against the clue­less Caribbeans, prompt­ing Kohli to make a hy­per­bolic claim: “I don’t think any of us were even 10 per­cent of what he is at 18-19.” If Shaw fol­lows that tra­jec­tory, he should re­tire with a Test av­er­age of around 500. Real­is­ti­cally, though, he didn’t fail at all against the Windies, and be­came In­dia’s youngest-ever cen­tu­rion on de­but. It looks as though they’ve found a re­place­ment for the much-favoured “Char­lie” Dhawan. Cruel, but he’d un­der­stand. This is about sur­vival of the fittest.

It’s been said In­dia’s se­lec­tors stuck with Dhawan way too long. Have they done Mu­rali Vi­jay the same favour? It’s dif­fi­cult to say whether his re­cent form lapse is a re­sult of age (he’s 34) or poor de­ci­sion-mak­ing born of dwin­dling con­fi­dence.

One thing we can be sure of: Kohli is undi­min­ished, and no longer has Steve Smith to can­cel him out, as he did in 201415, or out­shine him, as he did in In­dia in

THE RE­VERSE SIDE OF THAT IN­DIAN ABIL­ITY TO PRO­DUCE WINS FROM NOWHERE IS THE ODD TEN­DENCY TO DISENGAGE HALF­WAY THROUGH AN AR­DU­OUS TOUR IF IT ALL SEEMS TOO HARD.

2017. He’s primed to rack up an­other man-of-the­series prize. Over­seas, In­dia barely cracked the 200-run mark in 2018, and when they did, it was at the matches at Cen­tu­rion and Birm­ing­ham, when Kohli tonned.

But South Africa and Eng­land have very wellor­gan­ised pace at­tacks. Aus­tralia’s has al­ways had a lit­tle more of the ran­dom about it. Hope­fully for the Aussies, con­sis­tency and com­ple­men­tar­ity will fea­ture un­der the tute­lage of Langer. If so, the In­dian bats­men, apart from Kohli, will again strug­gle on a for­eign pitch. Maybe. At least they won’t have to con­tend with the cease­lessly swing­ing Duke, or the new, bio-degrad­able ver­sion of the SG, a ball the In­di­ans once loved.

Both sides are ca­pa­ble of solid batting from no.7 down. In­dia might have Hardik Pandya, if his back is­sues have been re­solved, and Ravi Ash­win and Ravin­dra Jadeja can bat, but we’re not sure they’re com­ing. In­dia’s tail has folded like a poker player with panic dis­or­der way too of­ten for any­one’s lik­ing of late. Mind you, it helps if the top-three pave the way, and that hasn’t been hap­pen­ing.

For Aus­tralia, Lyon, Cum­mins and Starc have proved not only handy, but nec­es­sary in re­cent times to min­imise the em­bar­rass­ment our up­per or­der has caused, if noth­ing else. But they can be dan­ger­ous too, and ca­pa­ble of scor­ing 100-plus be­tween them, some­times at crit­i­cal times.

TER­RORS AND TURNERS

If any­thing coun­ter­bal­ances the po­ten­tial strength of In­dia’s bats­men, it’s the Star­cHa­zle­wood-Cum­mins (and we keep say­ing this: hope­fully Pat­tin­son) fast-bowl­ing pow­er­house, es­pe­cially on their home strips. Steep bounce com­bined with speed has of­ten ex­posed In­dia’s bats­men in Aus­tralia.

Kohli wants to con­cen­trate on fast­bowl­ing Down Un­der. He has un­prece­dented depth and fire­power at his dis­posal. Last tour, Umesh Ya­dav was un­veiled: brash, ag­gres­sive and pretty rapid. He’s a lit­tle costly, but well-suited to our pitches, fit and ca­pa­ble of the un­playable. Mo­hammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bum­rah and Bhu­vnesh­war Ku­mar have all fared well over­seas. Ishant has im­proved of late un­der the tute­lage of Ja­son Gille­spie. All-rounder Pandya, if fit, is a dan­ger­ous seamer who shred­ded Eng­land at Trent Bridge, claim­ing 5/28. Shami fared well on In­dia’s last tour here when the tracks were mostly un­help­ful. Ku­mar gets nice late swing. The dan­ger­ous Bum­rah is quick and has the ad­van­tage for a pace-man of an un­usual ac­tion. He ex­tracts pur­chase from the stingi­est of pitches.

It goes with­out say­ing that In­dia al­ways has good spin­ners, but there’s some sort of in­ternecine in­trigue, in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to for­eign­ers, go­ing on. Ash­win is in cri­sis to the ex­tent that he’s prac­tis­ing leg-spin. Jadeja, an im­pres­sive crick­eter, never seems to im­press his own Test se­lec­tors. Kuldeep Ya­dav has im­pressed Kohli with his left­y­wrist-spin, and might be se­lected away from home. Yuzven­dra Cha­hal is a wily leg­gie who plays lit­tle red-ball, but might be a rev­e­la­tion in the for­mat. He’s an at­tacker, and a con­tainer.

RECK­LESS CON­JEC­TURE

But weav­ing their web around Aus­tralia’s green blades­men won’t be so easy for In­dia’s spin­ners if they have small to­tals to de­fend. We’re pre­dict­ing a se­ries char­ac­terised by low scores, dom­i­nated by bowlers. If that’s the case, Aus­tralia might drag In­dia down to its level. Sounds cruel, but the only way for Aus­tralia’s batting to go is up.

Aus­tralia’s ord­nance re­mains un­changed. Starc, Ha­zle­wood, Cum­mins and Lyon, backed up pos­si­bly by Mitch Marsh and Labuschagne, aug­mented by Pat­tin­son, just might out­weigh In­dia’s. On the other hand, In­dia’s batting is more set­tled and es­tab­lished. Even trou­bled, it should have more of what they call in Hindi ni­hit kshamata, roughly trans­lated as “in­her­ent ca­pac­ity”, than Aus­tralia’s.

The way In­dia’s bats­men han­dle Aus­tralia’s bowlers will prove the dif­fer­ence. Their at­tack, like Aus­tralia’s top-six, is es­tab­lish­ing it­self. Each might ben­e­fit from the other’s weak­ness, and de­velop grad­u­ally dur­ing the se­ries.

One hid­den in­gre­di­ent that will emerge over the sum­mer is Aus­tralia’s fit­ness, which will im­pact on their batting, bowl­ing and field­ing. Langer em­pha­sises phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing more than Lehmann did. In a crunch, it might the Aussies’ X-fac­tor.

This is a tough se­ries to pick. There’s a fence that goes right up the mid­dle of this four-Test se­ries, and we’re sit­ting on it,

THE WAY IN­DIA’S BATS­MEN HAN­DLE AUS­TRALIA’S BOWLERS WILL PROVE THE DIF­FER­ENCE. THEIR AT­TACK, LIKE AUS­TRALIA’S TOP SIX, IS ES­TAB­LISH­ING IT­SELF. EACH MIGHT BEN­E­FIT FROM THE OTHER’S WEAK­NESS

pre­dict­ing a 2-2 re­sult. How­ever, we’ll be spe­cific:

Ade­laide is an op­por­tu­nity for In­dia to start with a vic­tory. It’s no longer a bowler’s grave­yard of­fer­ing grudg­ing as­sis­tance to spin as it ages. The grounds­man has made it spin- and seam­friendly, yet re­ward­ing of good batting tech­nique. Aus­tralia’s pace at­tack will fare well, but In­dia’s will be ef­fec­tive, too. It will come down to Aus­tralia’s batting. In­dia to win a low-scor­ing thriller.

Perth doesn’t favour quicks as it once did, and it’s pos­si­ble In­dia will bag a big to­tal. But Aus­tralia’s fast-bowlers are more used to the strip and Lyon will bowl well there. Aus­tralia, just.

In­dia’s spin­ners will find their feet in Mel­bourne, and if they bat first, the In­dian line-up will rack up a match-win­ning to­tal be­fore the in­evitable de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. In­dia, bet­ter equipped for poor pitches, will win de­ci­sively.

Syd­ney no longer packs lit­tle sur­prises for spin­ners, but does pro­vide a good, equal con­test. Aus­tralia’s bowlers will pre­vail. Lyon, who knows how to over-spin a ball for Aussie con­di­tions, will be a fac­tor, as in Perth. The In­dian bowlers’ sidespin­ning habits will be hard to break. Aus­tralia will fin­ish on a win­ning note, Paine will be good for the cap­taincy at least for the Sri Lanka se­ries, and Aus­tralia’s top-six, who­ever they end up be­ing, will be more set­tled.

The dancers are di­min­ished, but the dance will cap­ti­vate, as ever.

The new lead­er­ship team of coach Langer and cap­tain Paine [be­low] have made an im­print. Will wins fol­low? Aaron Finch will have to prove that play­ing as a Test opener is not too much of a stretch ...

Mean­while, the team will be sweat­ing on the health of Khawaja, who has swept to top-bat sta­tus.

With Shaun Marsh's place in the or­der again up in the air [ ], is the door open for a bolter such as Will Pu­cov­ski?

Look­ing out for no.1: prodigy Prithvi Shaw and Chet Pu­jara [ ] will need to make runs on the road.  ­€‚ƒ There's pace depth with Umesh Ya­dav, but Ash­win's spin is still key.

Even with all the batting ques­tions, the Aussies are right with the spin of Nathan Lyon ...

... while the pace and bounce of Starc and co. will have the In­di­ans watch­ing out.

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