| India captain Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar during net practice at the MCG on Thursday. (PTI)
Melbourne: Quickly landing the knockout punch in the Boxing Day Test is a priority for both Team India and Australia. Only, given the formidable batting, it may not happen as speedily as being plotted — the expected “spongy bounce” at the MCG notwithstanding.
Steve Waugh himself seemed to acknowledge that when, on the eve of his last Test here, he declared: “Statistically, both teams have a great batting line-up, possibly the best in history... So, beating the other is a challenge...”
Actually, beginning Friday, the ten days which remain in this four-Test series should produce the keenest cricket of recent times. Being 1-0 up — something India “wouldn’t have dreamt of even in the wildest dreams” as Australian coach John Buchanan put it — Sourav Ganguly gets a wee bit more breathing space. But, that’s about it.
He is, of course, primed for potentially the mother of all responses from Steve and his men. “Even though the flavour of the season is such, we aren’t expecting gifts,” Sourav told The Telegraph, as daughter Sana excitedly counted the presents received from Santa at the team’s supremely luxurious hotel.
Needing to win both the third Test and the one in Sydney to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Steve underlined the importance of “properly executing plans.” He didn’t elaborate much, not that he needed to, but speed merchant Brett Lee figures high in his scheme of things.
Incidentally, Steve’s debut was at the MCG 18 years ago, against India, and he remembers having a “cocktail of emotions” running through his head on wearing the baggy green for the first time. He also felt “intimidated” by the Kapil Devs.
Cut to the present and it’s to be seen whether Lee, whose debut too was here (in the last Test versus India, 1999-2000), succumbs to the pressure Sourav has been talking about. However, Buchanan maintained the 27-year-old “loves it” when the heat is on. Moreover, Lee “enjoys” the role of spearhead.
Steve didn’t quite get it right when he said India aren’t accustomed to being ahead in a series overseas, but Sourav and Co. cannot afford to err like they did in Zimbabwe (summer of 2001) and the West Indies (early 2002). Hopefully, the lessons have been learnt.
With the Sachin Tendulkar factor looming large, despite a poor run, it’s interesting that Steve and Buchanan reacted somewhat differently when commenting on the Little Maestro.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say anything as silly as us being on top of him...” is what Steve emphasised. Buchanan, on the other hand, pointed out India had been moving away from just relying on Sachin and, that, the others “hadn’t been ignored” in the Australian gameplan. Indeed, the biggest impact has been made by Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman.
If Lee’s comeback, after being out for over two months, is going to give teeth to the Australians, India have been buoyed by Zaheer Khan’s return. With Ashish Nehra coming through an extensive nets session, after a near miraculous recovery from a swollen (right) ankle, it’s Irfan Pathan who will miss out.
Meanwhile, breaking his silence on the leaked letter issue, Buchanan insisted “certain issues” needed to be discussed and, with that being done, “it’s time to move on.” In Steve’s view, it was a “discussion paper.”
The coach, who regrets nothing, added he wouldn’t hesitate to author another letter if the circumstances so warranted. As he put it: “There’s a difference between saying a few words and putting those in writing...”
Buchanan has a point.