Melbourne:By Ian Healy
At the end of the Indian cricket team's tour Down Under, Australia is now part of the leading pack in world cricket rather than miles in front of it. The impact of the retirements of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath has been immediate. Australia are not as potent and India is more confident.
This summer was as hard fought as it was acrimonious, but certainly it was the personal tensions, which held the spectator's attentions. Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, then Matthew Hayden, then everyone had an opinion of the feisty offie. His captains stirred things along masterfully and kept the ranks composed and ready for the one-day finals' onslaught.
Sachin Tendulkar has played a pivotal senior player's role, which eventually brought out the best in his batting for the summer. He played an important role in the racial court hearing before inspiring the youngsters to the Commonwealth Bank series win with his deeds with the bat.
The tactic of the summer for me was Anil Kumble's comment that only one side was upholding the spirit of the game and it was India. He had only Michael Clarke not walking on a certain dismissal to back it up but that mattered little. The press and then the public snapped into a full interrogation of Australian cricket player behaviour and the emphasis was off the racial slur of Harbhijan well and truly. This was a definite turning point and India would go on to record history in Perth, have a satisfying draw in Adelaide before gathering its one-day team for February form not often seen in Australia.
India's greatest regret should be its lack of preparation for the Test series because that quite possibly cost them a clean sweep. Melbourne's performance was to be crucial and they were hopeless and insecure, Sydney looked better and except for one umpiring decision (Rahul Dravid's on the last day) and 15 minutes of pathetic batting which allowed the unlikely Clarke to clean up far too many wickets in tandem with Symonds, the series could have been in the balance! Nil-all or one-nil down going to Perth was critical but performance was poor to allow 2-0.
Australia were now dealing with frustrations on several fronts. The press were examining their every move and on-field appeal, the Indians were baiting them beautifully and their administrators were balancing their support of the players with a desire to appease Indian cricket.
These irritations eventually sapped them of energy and technique for the top order to finish the summer unrecognisable from the powerhouse we watched at the start. With all this commotion surrounding the Australian senior players there was no better time to unleash the one-day young brigade to follow on from their Twenty20 world championship success. They were terrible. The Melbourne Twenty20 was disastrous as they capitulated one after another like schoolboys. The question was asked -- was India fair dinkum? For the ensuing month they answered it clearly. Slowly they built confidence and form. Several poor batting days but never a moment of panic from the Captain.
In my opinion this is the best group of emerging players I have seen in one team. The contest between Ricky Ponting and Ishant Sharma in the Perth Test was unbelievable cricket. The workload that Sharma shouldered through the summer was immense and always impressive. Rohit Sharma, Gautam Ghambir, Robin Uthappa, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan were all wonderful inclusions.
RP Singh had a happy knack of collecting wickets along with Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla entered spectacularly under great pressure. The two missing links were Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.
Yuvraj found a spark in the finals but must identify what was wrong before then so that it does not happen again. He was a broken man who did not want to play and he let the team down. Sehwag still has so much to contribute and he demonstrated an ability to restrain his recklessness at times this summer. A combination of senior players sprinkled in between these young players will be important and I would not rule out Dravid, VVS Laxman or Sourav Ganguly for future series as long as they are working as hard as the rest on the training paddocks.
This Indian era should produce some real masters of the game with bat, ball as well as allrounder status. It is India's responsibility to the game now having started to beat the champ that they sustain this brilliant performance and kick clear themselves, something that England after 2005 could not manage.
This is a column by Ian Healy, who was Australia's wicketkeeper between 1988 and 1997. He retired with the world record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in Tests. He is now a television commentator.
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