Sunil Gavaskar: Rahul, Iyer can attack Australian bowlers in Rohit's absence

There’s little to choose between the two sides as both have terrific batting and pace bowling and the one area where India has an advantage is in the spin department.

Sunil Gavaskar: Though Rohit is absent for the T20Is and the ODIs, in K. L. Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, India now has two batsmen capable of taking the attack to the opposition.

That India is the country that brings in the moolah for other countries has been known in cricketing circles for a while now. A tour by the Indian cricket team rings in the cash like no other tour and even a World Cup does not get anywhere close to the revenues that an India tour generates for the host country.

Despite all this, there is a reluctance to give Indian cricket its due, especially among the old powers. They will scramble to get the Indian team to their country even out of turn, too, as can be seen by the schedule announced by the England and Wales Cricket Board for the next year.

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The Indian team generally tours another country every four years, but despite touring England for a five-Test series in 2018, England is ready to host it in three years in 2021 for another five-Test series. The Indian team will thus have been in England four times in four years starting with the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 and the ICC World Cup in 2019 and, in between, the five-Test series in 2018.

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The same with Australia where India played only a couple of years ago in 2018/19 and is there now for another tour comprising Tests as well as T20Is and ODIs. That again would have been understandable if the Australians had toured India in the interim but that hasn’t happened. So it’s been a win-win situation for both Australia and England financially. Sadly, that does not always reciprocate in helping India at the ICC where the countries that benefit from having an India tour act as stumbling blocks to India’s seat at the Board table.

The pandemic has created panic all over the world and the sporting world is also badly affected by it. That’s why the success of the Indian Premier League was such an energy boost to the cricketing ecosystem. Despite no crowds being allowed into the stadium, the tournament generated very good viewership that guaranteed financial inflows to the BCCI.

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That, in turn, has encouraged other Boards. India starts its Australia tour with the ODI series, though it would have been better to start with a T20 series since the IPL got over very recently and the Indian team would be better attuned to that format. Then to ease up a bit and play the slightly longer 50-overs format followed by the five-day Test series would have been a better way for players to get their mental antennas right.

Be that as it may, there’s little to choose between the two sides as both have terrific batting and pace bowling and the one area where India has an advantage is in the spin department. The spinners have been picking wickets in the middle overs and putting a break on the scoring, which has been one of the reasons why India has done well in the ODIs. There’s, of course, the Rohit Sharma factor as he powers the team to a quick start in the company of Shikhar Dhawan and then with Virat Kohli to follow, the team puts up a big score.

The problem, generally, is when the top three fail to get going. Though Rohit is absent for the T20Is and the ODIs, in K. L. Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, India now has two batsmen capable of taking the attack to the opposition. India’s pace attack is a potent one, too, capable of picking wickets at the top as well as running through the lower order. The Australian pitches are great to bat on after the ball loses its hardness and with the even bounce, batting can be a delight.

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The Test series will present its own challenges starting with the pink ball Test in Adelaide. The Aussies have an unbeaten record there and know exactly what the ball does especially at the hour where the sun sets and the light fades away. That hour is what the Indians will have to watch out for especially when they are batting. The Indian experience of a pink ball game has been limited to just one Test against Bangladesh which they won in a canter and where they were hardly stretched at all.

The presence of Steve Smith and David Warner in the Australian side will make things difficult for India compared to its last tour Down Under.

 

The Indians will be a bit more familiar with the pitches in Melbourne and Sydney where they have done well on the last tour but it’s Brisbane which is the Australian fortress. That is where the Aussies like to begin the Test series as the fast and bouncy pitch works to their bowlers’ advantage. Last time India didn’t play a Test there, so the experience of the pitch there is pretty limited. It will be interesting to see how Rohit Sharma fares overseas as an opening batsman.

He has done phenomenally well in India once he started to open the batting in Test matches and given the fact that he likes the ball coming on to the bat there’s no reason he should not succeed in Australia too. Mayank Agarwal has taken his game to another level and was one of the big success stories of that historic win two years ago even though he played only a couple of Test matches.

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Virat Kohli is playing only the first Test and that will be a huge morale lifter for the Australians, for sure. He has a superb record with six hundreds, so the Aussies will have one less headache to worry about. As for the Indian team it has won every single time Kohli has not played, be it the two Tests he missed or the Nidahas Trophy or the Asia Cup in 2018, so his absence will only make the others raise the level of their game.

With Steve Smith and David Warner returning to the Australian team and with Marnus Labuschagne progressing like Agarwal has done in the last two years, the Aussie batting will be far more difficult to bowl to than the last tour where no Aussie batsman got a century.

All in all, it promises to be another blockbuster as most India-Australia series have been.