With the fate of the T20 World Cup uncertain, India’s tour of Australia, more specifically the four-Test series that begins in December, has become the highlight of the projected post-pandemic cricket calendar.
Jason Gillespie, the former Australia pacer whose 259 Test scalps included 43 Indian wickets, believes it will be the “perfect series” to offer cricket as a solace in troubled times. Much of Gillespie’s conviction grows from his admiration for the current crop of Indian pacers.
“India now have the best seam attack they have ever had. Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav — they are all very good bowlers. India are a very balanced side,” Gillespie, who currently coaches Sussex, told The Telegraph from Adelaide.
While the 45-year-old had seen Ishant from close quarters during the Indian’s Sussex stint in 2018, he explained the qualities of the other pacers too to make his point.
“I have seen Ishant from close, he always wants to learn. That is one of his biggest advantages. He can bowl fuller length stuff regularly. Shami’s wrist position is excellent, he uses upright seam to allow the ball the opportunity to move through the air and off the pitch. Bumrah has pace, bounce and variations. Umesh has aggression and pace as well. Bhuvneshwar bowls a perfect line and length. That he can swing the ball both ways is a big strength,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie himself was part of one of the most lethal pace attacks in Australian cricket history. Along with Glenn McGrath, Michael Kasprowicz, Damien Fleming and of course Brett Lee, Gillespie tormented batsmen in a dominating era of Australian cricket.
But he isn’t interested in comparing cricketers from different eras. “Different bowlers come with different skill sets in different eras. Respect the achievements of players in the past and appreciate the skills on show of current players. The game only evolves and gets better,” he said.
About India’s tour Down Under, Gillespie said: “It’s a much anticipated series and will attract immense interest. I think it would be the perfect series after tough times and people will enjoy it… Two good teams playing against each other. Australia will have a slight advantage being at home. However, India are a much better travelling team these days, so it should be a very good series. I think the series will be very competitive,” he said.
As per the fixture released by Cricket Australia, India will play three T20Is (October 11, 14 and 17), four Tests (December 3-7, 11-15, 26-30 and January 3-7, 2021) and three ODIs (January 12, 15 and 17, 2021) in Australia.
There are no practice games scheduled in the lead-up to the Test series, which also includes a Day-Night fixture to be played with the pink ball. Gillespie refused to call that a big problem. “The situation is not ideal admittedly. However, good teams and good players adapt well to situations and this is about as unique a situation as you can get.”
Post the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia are yet to zero in on their best XI, but are close to finalising it, Gillespie said. “I think they are very close to settling on what their best XI would look like. I’m very confident that this team has the players to get the job done.
“I think they will be fresh after the Covid-19 break and that will actually be a good thing for the players. They would be eager to play the games and give their best. All the players are doing fitness training and they would prepare for the series. So I don’t think it would be difficult for them to play.”
While he looks forward to the Australia-India engagements, he has doubts about the T20 World Cup. “I will be surprised if it goes ahead in the current scenario. We need to heed the advice of medical experts. We all want cricket — however, we want cricket when it is safe. I remain very hopeful about the T20 World Cup. But we have to consider the current (pandemic) situation. It is difficult to predict the future,” he said.
Gillespie feels that bowlers will have to make do with sweat to shine the ball after the ICC’s ban on use of saliva for the purpose.
“It’s a tough one — we are in unique times with this pandemic. The virus can spread through saliva. So, we need to be really careful. Other than sweat, I’m really not sure how anything else will work. The health of players must always be the priority.”