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Border - Gavaskar Trophy: The series that could have been

Each one of us by now would have learned of India’s triumph against the Australians on home soil, something they didn’t do against the Alistair Cook-led England team that led to an embarrassment, an incident that scarred us for life.

How could a team like India, which had greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and so on, fail miserably both abroad and home? How could the team that won the World Cup, reached the summit of world ranking in Test cricket and had beaten all the best teams of the world, fail so horribly?

This was the situation that the current crop of Indian youngsters had to face in this ever-important home series against one of our greatest rivals, second only to Pakistan. The team is almost the same one that faced the drubbing in 2012 where we saw massive defeats take away our chances of retaining the no.1 ranking, but there was one element that was present that wasn’t there in the 2012 season.

That element was the presence of youngsters in the squad. Gutsy yet assuring, these lads guided us to victory in a series that was touted to be our toughest of the mid-season, before the IPL began. Youngsters and an inspirational fearless leader were all we needed to avenge our defeats, to almost tell ourselves that ‘revenge is sweet’! Dhoni and co. made sure of that.

Looking back at the series gone by, there are many things I would liked to have seen done differently, things that could have changed the outcome of the tournament, and at least try and make a fair show of a series of this magnitude.

The Australians obviously need to reassess themselves and try to pull their act together, for the challenges that lie ahead aren’t mediocre. It’s not something they can forget – the Ashes to them hold more importance than the Border-Gavaskar trophy – and as such since complacency won’t be a problem, the faster these issues are addressed, the better for the once mighty Aussies.

Michael Clarke’s captaincy though tactically sound has more kinks in the armour than an old knight’s vest. His continuous shying away from the problems when his trusted fast bowlers fail is a testament to his inexperience as captain – taking over the helm from a certain Ricky Ponting definitely must be taking its toll on him. He should, like Dhoni, put his arms around his young and inexperienced bowlers and tell them that it’s not the end of the world if a batsman stays and plays the whole day or if someone just goes berserk and they give up and bowl the ball like we would in ‘gully’ cricket if our opponents play extremely well. He should, like Ponting, be sure of what his plans are and execute them accordingly.

The batting: Australia’s batting was their biggest worry throughout the whole tournament. They struggled on all the pitches played on, and there are no excuses here since even their bowlers showed more class and application by doing a Dravid and blocking for as long as it took. Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle showed they are better players of spin and our so-called pace attack on slow tracks and rank turners than the top order batsmen. Such is the plight of the once-famed Aussie batting line up. Again, Clarke’s form was magnificent, and he should promote himself up the order to tackle the spin bowling so that his younger players end up playing the seamers, even though the seamers, especially Kumar, showed that swing has almost the same effect as spin. Changing the batting order and giving an opportunity to say Khwaja in place of Hughes should be considered as an option.

Australia v New Zealand - Second Test: Day 4

The bowling: The Australian pace attack is 2nd only to the South African and with a combination of the experience of Siddle, the pace of Pattinson and the swing of Starc, the Aussie bowling unit was thought to be good enough to take on the Indians who have been perennial victims of pace and bounce. Unfortunately, with the exception of Pattinson, they failed to do justice to their selection and that eventually brought about their downfall as you simply cannot win a Test match without picking up 20 wickets in a match. Along with their pace problems, they had an even more traumatic experience with spin until the last match, where Nathan Lyon did something noteworthy. A stronger spin department is definitely required anywhere in the world, and at the same time the pace bowling shouldn’t be compromised. Striking a balance between the two could prove to be a masterstroke, should it happen.

Management and Media: Obviously, with such gigantic defeats come huge repercussions. Those came in the form of the infamous ‘homework-gate’ fiasco. Due to the exclusion of some of their best players, along with the all important Pattinson, the Aussie team looked like a tiger without its teeth. They looked sloppy, the batting weak as ever, and all the management did was defend its decision to bench them. An unknown source was quoted as saying – “the Aussie team is governed by Clarke, it’s his way or the highway!” Such demeaning words they are to a young and hurting dressing room. With that, everyone must have been worried about retaining their place in the side by doing their homework, rather than working hard in the nets to try and counter the spin factor! The media also played a major hand in the further issues. Watson, the deputy, rushed back to his place awaiting the birth of his child. Trust the media to create havoc, suggesting a coup within the Australian system.

Experience: Finally, the all important factor of experience. This is the one thing that can’t be taken out of a coaching module or learnt from the seniors and coaches. It’s one thing that is the immediate effect of staying in the team long enough to bear fruit of your struggles. Both the teams obviously lacked this crucial factor. We didn’t have Dravid or Laxman to lend a supporting role, to act as the father figures for the youngsters. Similarly, the Aussies didn’t have Ponting or Gilchrist or anyone from that era to lend their insights. But the difference between the two teams eventually came down to the handling of pressure by the youngsters. Indians did it seamlessly, whereas the kangaroos struggled and that was one of the crucial factors in the outcome. What they can do is speak to their seniors and learn, and hope they perform well enough to keep their place in the squad, so that someday they can lend that support to their successors.

Had some of these things gone Australia’s way, we might have been treated to a much more even contest between two of the world’s greatest Test nations.

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