The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sourav is the new Steve of mindgames
- The India-Australia series can be classed as a genuine world championship final
Stump Vision
Ian Healy

Both India and Australia have been recipients of top level status in the past two series. Now performance must stand up. This is Australia's sneak preview of the future. There are no Waughs, no Ponting. The batting line-up is full of lefthanders who would neutralise Harbhajan Singh. It would blunt the off-spinner's leg before menace to right-handers.

Simon Katich at No. 3, Justin Langer and Darren Lehmann to stabilise and Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist to dominate! Then Australians would derive great heart from how Damien Martyn played in Sri Lanka earlier this year. It was outstanding and career-saving for him.

Michael Clarke, in my opinion, was selected two years too late, but that wouldn't hurt his appetite and will improve his composure. This team still has great class, balance and form. Even without the experience of 2001's team!

Again, the footmarks created by India's left-arm speedsters, such a critical ingredient for spinners looking to exploit those roughs, wouldn't be as useable since Australia are stacked with lefthanders.

Australia's bowling is a real unknown though. Glenn McGrath will be closely watched. Has he still got more than just economy' Reports are that his pace is down and that is not good if it is typically Indian pitches. Michael Kaprowicz is the in-form wicket-taker in the line-up with the ability to swing the new and old ball and cut it. He is unproven at Test level and in leading the attack. Jason Gillespie is proven and critical to Australia's chances but such stresses in the past have seen his body buckle. He was magnificient in the 2001 series without the result or luck.

Then there is Shane Warne. Warney must spin the ball and then Indian fans will see the real Warne stand up. He has never spun the ball anywhere near as much as he can, in India. Not even out of the rough. He needs to provide ripping leggies to stifle the scintillating strokeplay of the sun worshippers. They have no fear of him on home soil and that could be a mistake this time. The timing of series could also be an ally to him. It is the first pre-season trip for Australia, rather than him being the fatigued tweaker on previous tours.

India too are developing a pack mentality like Australia's ' enough of them do their jobs brilliantly everyday. All of them are capable of performing in the rotation. This makes them hard to get on top of but huge things are expected of the spinners. Long breaks will ensure they are fresh but they will need helpers.

In the last series, Harbhajan was on his own, while the quicks tried everything to no avail. Is there still the great rivalry between Zaheer and Hayden' I hope so and now Irfan Pathan is the new leader of great ability.

The batting with or without Sachin Tendulkar can and will hurt at any time. Laxman loves Australia and this is mutual; Dravid loves performing everywhere; Sehwag is once again crunching more than just starts and Sourav Ganguly is the new Steve Waugh with his mindgames or at least the perception of these, as captain.

In 2001, they were prodded into action late by the partnership (Calcutta), but must start early this time. I also feel Yuvraj needs some protection so that his natural-ness can happen. India must rethink if they are serious about opening the innings with him.

Glenn McGrath during a promotional event in Bangalore on Sunday

Adam Gilchrist and captaincy ' there could not be a harder time to be lumped with it. He will handle it, but something in his game may have to give. We expect so much of him in both forms of the game ' this is his greatest challenge and will require skill of his strike players to get through.

Looking at the tour in general, Australians now love touring India. Cricket facilities have improved. What makes tour enjoyable are hotels (second to none in India); being on the same wavelength as the people (the absolute joy of the Indian people was such an inspiration to me).

Dressing rooms need to be comfortable as players spend so much time there and India is improving; practice facilities are crucial for those players out of form on long tours or reserves to make sure they are ready for immediate call up. India now has these criteria covered and there is heaps to do and learn about for us all in spare time. Plus Fosters brew there!!!

The strife in Indian cricket is a distant second to the anticipation of this great series!

Looking to the past, if Australia in 2001 had decided not to chase 374 in 75 overs on Day 5 in Calcutta, they would have won that series.

India played tough, clever and enjoyable cricket in Australia last summer to get on equal footing with Australia at home, which is rare.

To me, this can be classed as a genuine world championship final. If India can win, there is a gathering pack of nations circling. Blood in the water will excite world cricket teams.

History means nothing. It's now time for supreme effort and performance. (PTI)

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