Australia is here! The test series that we had been waiting for so long is finally upon us! Even though India has blanked the likes of New Zealand and England already, a similar result against the Aussies would be ‘cleansing’, considering how successful the latter team has been over the years. Even though Australia may have been underperforming of late with series losses to Sri Lanka (away) and South Africa (home), it’s still a team to be reckoned with. In the absence of cricket against Pakistan, India-Australia contests now have an added edge to them.
How is Australia Getting Ready?
It may be evident from the way Australia has selected its team that it is looking to make most of the spinning conditions on offer. That is why the team is packed with spinners. Apart from specialists such as Ashton Agar, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe and Mitchell Swepson the team has Glenn Maxwell and skipper Steven Smith who can turn over their arms as and when needed.
The policy can surely be described as a horses for courses one. Interestingly enough, it was Australia’s pace pack of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, and Michael Kasprowicz that helped it win its last series in India in 2004. Australia happens to be undermanned in that particular department though, this time around.
What is Steven Smith Thinking?
As may be evinced from his opinions on various interviews and press meets, the Australian skipper is not suffering fools. He knows that this series is not going to be easy. Even taking into account how stormy his ride as a captain has been, a test series with a red-hot India in the latter’s home turf is always going to be the toughest proposition ever.
A Tale of Two Leaders
Steven Smith may have scored runs – and plenty of them at that – in order to be regarded at par as a batsman with Virat Kohli, but as a leader, the latter seems to be streets ahead of him. Kohli has been more successful, even if we take into account that he has led mostly on home soil and subcontinental conditions (he is yet to lead in South Africa, England, and New Zealand and his record in Australia is not really that good). His aggressive captaincy has also received high praise compared to Smith.
Can Smith Reinvent Himself?
Just like Australia remains the ultimate test for teams from the subcontinent, India happens to be the Holy Grail for teams from outside Asia. If Smith is able to at least draw the series over here, he would have earned himself the first step towards leadership immortality. What remains to be seen is whether he can improve his captaincy style. It has normally appeared ragged and conservative in face of sustained pressure, as seen during the cataclysmic Sri Lanka and South Africa contests.
Recently, though, he has shown signs of improvement and been a lot more attacking. As a cricketer, Smith has reinvented himself from a leg-spinner all-rounder to a successful batsman who hardly bowls any more. He has proved that nothing is beyond him as a cricketer. Can he do the same as captain, again? The answer to the question could well determine the fate of the ongoing test series.
*India play Australia in the first of a four-match Test series at Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) stadium at Gahunje near Pune, on February 23, 2017. It is the first time ever that a test match is being played at the stadium.
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