The Aussies are here, and if they haven’t announced their presence with the brashness of old, it is no reason to believe that they will be less ruthless on the field of play. The tempered approach could be tactical, though I suspect it perhaps runs deeper. A great deal has changed in Australian cricket over the past two years, not the least the aura around them which has been dissipated by teams like India, South Africa, and – horror of horrors – losing a second successive Ashes series in England.
The last mentioned alone would have been enough to stun any Aussie into complete silence, but I dare say that they appear to have recovered from the shock quickly and well. From the looks of it, Ricky Ponting has overcome his acute disappointment, saved his captaincy, and while trying to rebuild a champion team, appears to have got a second wind himself too.
There is a newfound — and growing — ambition in the Australian team after two difficult seasons, which appears to have its basis in hard performance rather than hard talk. The easy victory in the Champions Trophy following the 6-1 triumph over England in the ODIs revealed fresh focus and some outstanding young talent. Even in the Champions League, New South Wales looked a cut above the rest. If winning is a habit, the Aussies appear to be in the groove again.
That puts the onus on the Indian team to suppress the revival, at least in this series. The past few months have been disappointing for India and playing at home will only increase the pressure on the players. Yet that could be just the challenge for them to shrug off the mediocrity of recent weeks.
Barring Zaheer Khan who is still recovering, the team is back at full strength. It is a good team too despite recent setbacks and a good performance in this series could establish a momentum that could be crucial in the lead-up to the World Cup. For Dhoni and Co, it must be all systems go.
Despite losing in the final, Trindidad and Tobago played with such abandon and provided so much entertainment that the Champions League was salvaged from becoming an also-ran tournament.
Even Twenty20 has a fatigue threshold, as is now evident, and the early elimination of IPL teams did not help matters. Luckily, Trinidad and Tobago rose to the occasion. The spectacular hitting, brilliant fielding – quite simply the joi de vivre of the players — raised the League from the mundane to the extraordinary.
Which brings us to the moot question: If there is such abundant talent in Trindidad alone, why has West Indies cricket been struggling for so long? The Twenty20 game, of course, is unpredictable and not necessarily an index to a team’s calibre in the other formats. The shorter the game, the more level the playing field, and hence greater scope for topsy-turvy results.
But even so, there must be something remiss for West Indies cricket not to be in the upper echelons in international cricket if T&T’s performance here is any indication.
The prolonged dispute between the Caribbean players and their Board has now thankfully been resolved, this season should reveal whether West Indies cricket can take the upward curve again. I hope it does; it would make the game that much richer.
The writer is the editor at large with DNA