The moment you set foot in the MA Chidambaram Stadium, you know you are in a beatified territory. The sense of history is awe-inspiring, almost overwhelming. Few cricketing arenas can boast of such a chronicled past. Sample this: India’s maiden Test win in 1952, Sunil Gavaskar’s 30th hundred, the tied Test of 1986, Narendra Hirwani’s 16, Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘back-breaking’ classic, Harbhajan Singh’s 15 (2001), Virender Sehwag’s 319 and India’s 387/4 were all played out here. Have we missed something? Probably!
And just when you sit down and marvel at the grand canopies (reminiscent of the Adelaide Oval) or the pristine colonial facade of the Madras Cricket Club, your eyes don’t believe what they’re seeing. Out walk two suit-clad gentlemen — soaking in the sun, surveying the ground like they own it, laughing, back-patting…
A few minutes later, they pose next to a ‘trophy’. With 281 Tests and 21,299 runs between them, Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar and their partnership have no parallels. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy is, without doubt, one of the most coveted silverware in the sport of cricket. The good-natured banter between the former skippers, however, conveyed the phase this neo-age rivalry is going through. Australia are no Pakistan; conversely, India are no England. But India vs Australia is intense nevertheless. How intense, you’d wonder. Nowhere close to the dizzying heights of the past decade.
As India take on Australia in the first of the four Tests, the question on everyone’s lips is: is this still a marquee series? Try telling that to Michael Clarke and he’ll dismiss your query like a half-volley. Truth is both sides are going through a transitional phase; the only difference being that one side is bloody serious about it, the other isn’t. You know which one.
Also, neither side is No 1, nor near it. Come to think of it, this series is indeed a contest between teams that were walloped by England in their own backyard not too long ago. But since the urn changed hands and continents a couple of years ago, a Don Argus-powered Australia have lost just two Tests. India’s recent Test record reads: 0-4 against England, 2-0 against the West Indies, 0-4 against Australia, 2-0 against New Zealand and now 1-2 against England.
To put it simply, there’s all to gain for this young, inexperienced but hungry Aussie side. Only four from this team have played a Test in India. If they win, it’ll be great. If they lose, they will still have learnt a lot. For India, though, this series could define careers and intentions. Defeat to this aberration of an Aussie side could signal the end of the road for stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh, the latter set to play his 100th Test. A loss could also put MS Dhoni and his ‘godfather’ in the BCCI in a tight spot. The skipper has been riding his luck for way too long now, losing rubber after rubber in one format after another, both home and away.
For the moment, though, Dhoni doesn’t have much to fret over. He wanted a turner and he’s got it. He didn’t want to reveal his team to the media, so he sent Harbhajan for the pre-match press conference. He loves it when the media speculates, so he got Ashok Dinda and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to pad up towards the end of the training session.
What we do know is that the pitch is dry, really dry. And yes, even a rookie can turn the ball on this one. India, therefore, could go in with three spinners — Harbhajan, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Pragyan Ojha may have to sit out so that either Bhuvi or Dinda could make their debut and share the new ball with Ishant Sharma. This is, again, speculation!
The Aussies have thrown caution to the wind by naming four quicks, the move prompting Bhajji to say “they might change their mind in the morning”. But only two minutes before this, he had “honestly” conceded he hadn’t “seen the pitch”. He’s learning from his captain.
Follow Derek Abraham @DAbrahamm