Cricket: India the proving ground for Ashes

Glenn Maxwell v Sydney Thunder, Jan 8, 2013 (photo  mine)
Glenn Maxwell v Sydney Thunder, Jan 8, 2013 (photo mine)

India.  The dustbowls.  Home of the raging turner or the swinging sensation.

Also the proving ground for a host of Australian players before the Ashes series in England in July.

Questions will include; do both spinners get played, which pacemen get the gig, and who is going to open the batting?

Nathan Lyon will relish the challenge of really getting the chance to prove why he is Australia’s number one spinner.  Michael Clarke returns to the country where he burst onto the test scene in 2004.

Will it be the left arm combination, the Mitchell’s, Starc and Johnson, who can undo India with pace and swing?  Or perhaps Peter Siddle will enjoy steaming in and kicking up a cloud of dust.

Chennai is the first venue between these two rivals.  And if there is going to be any indication of form, it is going to be the sub continent.

Here’s a player by player preview (the entire 17 man squad):

Michael Clarke (Captain)

Anything you want done, ask the skipper.  He has had two very prolific summers, pummeling all number of bowlers to the fence.  He is also one of the most level headed cricketers in the game.  Has lead the Australian test and one day teams confidently since his inception as captain, and the amount of runs he has scored broke all kinds of records over the past two summers.  A couple of injury setbacks during the recent one day series has seen his preparation stifled, but Clarke has plenty of time to be ready for the first test in Chennai.  Middle order batting will be vital. (9/10)

Shane Watson (Vice Captain)

Up and down, up and down; seems to be the MO for Watson’s career.  His summer campaign stalled at almost the first hurdle with a hamstring injury.  Watson has to be incredibly careful in getting himself right; one little step and everything he has worked on to push his way back into the team could crumble.

That being said, when Watson is on song, he is one of the most destructive batsman in world cricket.  His strength is brutal; the ball races to the boundary in a split second.  In India, Watson at the top of the order is going to be one of Australia’s biggest assets.  Question will be if Watson turns into a walking timebomb, will it spell the end of his career? (7/10)

Jackson Bird:

The New South Wales fast bowler moved to Tasmania two seasons ago, and his career blossomed.  Almost 100 wickets in 19 first class matches, some of those hauls mesmerising.  Rewarded with a test cap this summer, Bird didn’t disappoint, his swing and awkward bounce dismissing more than a few stunned Sri Lankan batsmen.

Bird on the subcontinent is going to find a new obstacle, that of pitches that can start to crack and disintegrate.  However, Bird has shown he can transfer his domestic form to the Australian side.  After proving he was worth selecting against Sri Lanka, he can now cement a regular place in the team if he performs in India. (8/10)

Ed Cowan:

After an impressive series against South Africa (where Cowan broke his defensive hoodoo in scoring his maiden test century), the left-hand opener retreated back into his shell.  Pressure to keep his spot began to build, and Cowan simply couldn’t find the form he displayed against South Africa.

Cowan will be looking to repay the selectors faith and find the form that made him look like a regular opening batsman.  If he is able to not retreat into his shell (albeit the South African bowlers were top class) then the batsman that once was will be no more. (7/10)

Ed Cowan, Boxing Day 2012 (photo mine)
Ed Cowan, Boxing Day 2012 (photo mine)

Xavier Doherty:

A lot of fans do not seem to like Doherty.  Unfortunately he has been dropped and re-selected too many times, not giving him the chance to find his spot in the Australian team.  That being said, the past 12 months have seen Doherty lift his game and become very economical and clever with spin.  Something of a one-day specialist, Doherty has shown enough to play at test level.  And he will work brilliantly in tandem with Nathan Lyon if the two play together.  He now needs to transfer his domestic form across to India (7.5/10)

Moises Henriques:

Moises hasn’t had much time playing on the national stage, but he is no slouch at the domestic level, batting or bowling wise.  He has a first-class century to his name, and is a handy medium pace bowler.

During the recent one day series against the West Indies, Henriques’ impact was not as big as he was hoping for.  However, he has the talent to become a genuine international cricketer, and India may just be the start he needs.  Only time will tell if he can make it on the big stage (6.5/10)

Phil Hughes:

Much has been said about Phil Hughes since he started playing for Australia in 2009.  Things along the lines of ‘he’s not ready for international cricket’ or ‘he gets out to the short ball too much.’

That was when he was 20.  At the time, Hughes was ready for international cricket, but desperately needed to work on his technique to the short ball.  And he has; he looks much more fluent at the crease and his confidence has soared.  Hughes can head to India with his head held high, knowing he has re-invented himself and his technique.  He now just needs to keep it consistent for the four tests on the subcontinent (8.5/10)

Mitchell Johnson:

Testing times for the left arm quick.  He has made a statement in his return though; his action is better, his mind is clearer, and his pace and bounce has returned.

The big test for Johnson (both in the summer just finished and for India) is his consistency.  If his shoulders drop, he sprays the ball.  If he is upright when delivering, he is one of the craftiest swing bowlers in world cricket.  Swing will be the key element of Johnson’s campaign, and being able to swing it both ways is a big bonus.  Has to prove that his summer selection was no ‘fluke’ (8/10)

Usman Khawaja:

The left-hander oozes potential, but hasn’t been given the time to show it yet.  In and out of the test and one-day teams, as well as fighting for a place at the top of the order, Khawaja is still biding his time.

He may not have the big score in test cricket as yet, but his stays at the crease so far suggests Khawaja has the temperament for international cricket.  India will be (provided he plays) a testing ground for his game.  As a candidate for a long term number 3, Khawaja just needs that big score to ease his nerves. (8/10)

Nathan Lyon: 

A lot of criticism has been heaped on the off-spinner for not finding rip in his spin.  Not all bowlers use massive turn.  Lyon uses flight to deceive batsmen, and his bowling is pretty tidy.

With spin a major factor in India, it might just be up to Lyon to become the workhorse of the Australian bowling attack.  He has the means to do so, and there is no better time to spread his wings and show Australian fans why he is the number one spin bowler down under. (8/10)

Nathan Lyon v India, 2011 (photo mine)
Nathan Lyon v India, 2011 (photo mine)

Glenn Maxwell:

The million dollar man in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) hasn’t exactly wowed Australian fans in the green and gold.  His bowling, while taking some wickets, has been less than spectacular, and his batting has left a lot to be desired.  However, his fielding might just be the only thing keeping him in the side right now.

A gun at domestic level, Maxwell has simply fizzled on the international stage.  Makes you wonder if his $1,000,000 IPL price tag was worth it.  The selectors are taking something of a leap of faith sending him to India.  Although, I must confess, that all Maxwell may need to is let go of his naturally aggressive game at times to adapt to the test level.  If he doesn’t deliver the goods in India, the Ashes may seem quite far away. (6.5/10)

James Pattinson:

Pattinson has been cruelled by injuries this summer, stalling his Australian campaign.  When he is injury free, he is on fire.

Like Johnson, swing is going to be Pattinson’s biggest asset on pitches that will most likely be subject to turning.  That being said, some uneven bounce could be a great little niche advantage if Pattinson’s body stays right.  Working in tandem with Peter Siddle could also reap some fine rewards in India.  An injury-free campaign will do wonders for Pattinson’s confidence. (8/10)

Peter Siddle:

Considered the spearhead of the Australian attack for a couple of seasons now, watching Siddle steam in and do it again and again is simply a great sight.  Over in India, Siddle must be careful of not overexerting himself because of the possible humid conditions.  Must pressure the Indian batsmen into playing a false shot, and use his pace and bounce to advantage.

Also cannot be asked to take on extra workload if other bowlers break down around him, having been the most consistent this summer. (8.5/10)

Steve Smith:

There’s a lot to like about the man who has some of the safest hands in Australian cricket.  Yet there are a lot of fans who have distanced themselves from the young all-rounder.  After bursting onto the scene in Australian colours a couple of years ago, Smith has really fallen off the radar of selectors until now.  Patchy form has not exactly helped either.

However, Smith has shown that he can bat at test level, and if he gets a crack in India, it is going to be his batting that will come to the fore.  With Lyon, Doherty and Maxwell already in as the preferred spinners, the time for Smith to score some runs is now (7/10)

Matthew Wade:

The battler of the summer, Wade has not given in to the pressure heaped on him about his keeping, especially that from Ian Healy.  The resilience has paid off, and Wade has become a far better all-round keeper/batsman.  He showed just how powerful he was with the bat in Sydney last month with a brutal test century, and while he does need to make a few improvements to his keeping, I don’t see why Wade shouldn’t be the first choice keeper in all forms.

Wade will thrive in India, and after breaking the shackles that have held him back, he can push himself to greater heights (8/10)

Mitchell Starc:

Devastating.  Might be the most appropriate word to describe Starc’s stunning spells of swing bowling in both test and one day internationals this Australian summer.  His height creates awkward bounce which has confused more than a few opponents.

The Indians haven’t seen much of Mitchell Starc’s bowling, and haven’t faced him on the subcontinent as yet.  All he needs to do now is make sure that the form from his Australian summer is taken over to India. (8.5/10)

David Warner:

An interesting case with Warner.  His natural tendency is to smash the ball, but in recent times he has tamed that aggression and started to mature into a test cricketer.  However, Warner either goes big or doesn’t go at all.

Key to his campaign here is footwork on the sub continent pitches.  Building a platform for both the rest of the batsmen and his own innings is going to be one of Warner’s biggest keys.  Get that right, and Warner will be able to not only cement a place at the top of the order, but become the rock that we so dearly need to start the innings (8.5/10)

Feel free to leave discussion comments either here or on my Twitter: @Davis_Harr

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2 thoughts on “Cricket: India the proving ground for Ashes”

  1. I’d say you’re being a bit optimistic, especially with the spinners, Doherty has always flattered to deceive in first-class cricket, and Lyon has lost most of the flight he used to have.

    1. I guess you could say it’s a bit of a leap of faith. But Lyon showed good promise during the Australian summer. Doherty is someone who I’ve always had difficulty with deciding if he can make it or not. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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