India-Oz Test is a comforting reminder of what cricket is all about

2010-10-06 00:00

IT’S been good for the soul watching Australia take on India after all the off-field sagas and soap operas of late — a comforting reminder of what cricket really is all about.

Witnessing Australian and Indian on-field passions boil over in Mohali and the scraps between these fiercely competitive rivals reassures us that Test cricket is still the ultimate contest, especially when played between two formidable cricketing nations.

But with only two Test matches on the series menu, it’s an abbreviated affair and hardly enough cricket to satisfy the cravings of avid cricket fans.

Just what can be concluded from a two-Test teaser remains to be seen. Yet it’s provided enthralling entertainment so far and a taste of what we can look forward to this summer in South Africa and Down Under in the Ashes series when Australia host England.

The first Test match had all the ingredients for an absorbing contest. VVS Laxman, with a feisty 73, sealed a thrilling one-wicket victory for India. In Gambir, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, India have arguably world cricket’s most fearsome batting line-up — it doesn’t get much better than that.

The Australian bowlers had to dig deep for their wickets in the humidity of Chandighar and will be ruing the fact that they allowed India to wriggle off the hook with just one wicket remaining.

Under bowling coach Eric Simons, the Indian bowlers have found impressive form. Bowling Australia out for under 200 in the second innings of the Test match was an exceptional effort.

Aggressive left-armer Zaheer Kahn has made a forceful comeback after injury and adds valuable depth and firepower to lead the Indian attack. Gary Kirsten, India’s coach, will be the first to recognise the value of having Khan in his arsenal for the South African tour. Harbhajan Singh is an exciting and threatening spinner and both he and Khan know how to get under their opposition’s skin.

They are not easily intimidated and give as good as they get even to the Aussie “super-sledgers”. It was under Sourav Ganguly that the formerly reticent Indians began to stand up to the verbal assaults aimed at them, and they haven’t looked back. With MS Dhoni at the helm it’s unlikely this approach will change. Add South Africa’s competitiveness under captain Graeme Smith into the mix, and we’re surely in for some spicy verbal battles this summer.

Gary Kirsten has ensured that India are a well-directed and confident unit, and their position at the top of the ICC World Test rankings is testament to this. With Eric Simons and Paddy Upton in his management team, India will no doubt be impeccably prepared for the series in South Africa.

South African conditions will be challenging for India, but they are becoming better and better at adapting to playing off the sub-continent. The Proteas will be keen to exploit their home advantage and their fast bowlers as much as possible and will be determined to topple India off the top of the Test ranking tables.

So while the India-Australia series may be nothing more than an appetiser, cricketing fans can look forward to a five-Test feast to be served up by world cricket’s number one and two Test teams in December. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder currently living and coaching in Pietermaritzburg.

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