MELBOURNE: With an Australian cricket team in upheaval, India might have their best chance in decades to end an unwelcome streak Down Under – they have never won a Test series since they began touring here 64 years ago.
When the four-Test series begins on Monday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, star batsmen Sachin Tendulkar might have an opportunity to give India a solid start towards ending that streak, and create a historic milestone for himself: becoming the first cricketer to score 100 centuries in international cricket.
Tendulkar warmed up for an attempt at the mark when he hit a stylish 92 in India’s drawn tour match against a Cricket AustraliaChairman’s XI a week ago.
Tendulkar’s last international century came in March against South Africa. Fellow batsman Rahul Dravid has also been in strong form, scoring 1,067 runs in 2011 with five centuries.
But Dravid said he’d trade all the personal achievements for a Test series win in Australia.
“I wouldn’t have minded scoring five hundreds (fewer) or 1,000 runs less if we could win a series in Australia,” Dravid said. “The greatest memory for me now is not necessarily statistical … it’s those magical moments. The series wins in Tests stay with you.
“I think that’s what you play for at this stage. I don’t have anything in terms of my own numbers or statistics that I want to achieve in Australia, but I want to win a Test series (here) and help the team win in Australia.”
Former India captain Kapil Dev believes his side has edged closer to an elusive Australia series win. And he claims former captain Ricky Ponting, who is in a batting slump and might not even get a start in the first Test, is the biggest threat.
The 37-year-old Ponting has not scored a century in nearly two years, has averaged 50 just once in his past seven series and has made 323 runs at an average of 24 in seven Tests over the past 12 months.
The 158-Test veteran could very well miss a chance to play in what would be his 15th Boxing Day Test because of the strong form of Shaun Marsh, who is returning from injury and scored an unbeaten 99 in a Twenty20 match this week.
“I am more concerned about Ricky Ponting than anybody else because he is experienced,” Dev said. “If we can control him, we can control the entire Australian team. Experience always comes in handy in the long run, and he has not scored enough runs in the last year, so he is due.”
The Australian team is in tatters after losing eight wickets for 74 in a seven-run loss to No. 8-ranked New Zealand in Hobart two weeks ago. It was New Zealand’s first Test win in Australia since 1985.
The collapse against New Zealand extended concerns over a batting order which reached its nadir in South Africa last month when dismissed for a record low of 47 at Cape Town.
“This time India has a better chance to win the Test series in Australia, there is no doubt about that,” Dev says. “Australia were on top of the world cricket for 15 years. But now it is not the same team without (Glenn) McGrath, and Shane Warne, ( Adam) Gilchrist and (Matt) Hayden. They are not as strong as they used to be.”
Dev points to the veterans India still has in its team.
“We still have Sachin, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag,” he said. “Then they are combined with the young talented fast bowlers and spinners. It looks like our team are getting strong everyday.”
Melbourne Cricket Ground curator Cameron Hodgkins said there would not be too much life in a pitch that traditionally plays low. He advised both sides that they might need some variation in their attacks to take the 20 wickets needed.
“After the new ball has worn and the pitch has flattened out, you tend to need a fair bit of variety to conjure up wickets,” Hodgkins said. “It hasn’t traditionally turned much on the last day but can become a better batting strip, which means it needs a variety of bowlers to get wickets.”
“The forecast for the opening three days of the Test is for low 20s (Celsius, about 68 to 70 Fahrenheit) with humidity, so that could keep the fast bowlers interested.”