Will Indian cricket's last tour of this century create a refreshing record? That was the question on every Indian lip on Tuesday morning when Sachin Tendulkar's men left for Australia. In its long international history that began in 1932 with a tour of England, India's has not won as many Series victory abroad as its millions of admirers would have desired. Way back in 1967-68, Nawab of Pataudi 's team won a Series in New Zealand.
That was followed by Ajit Wadekar side's triumph over the West Indies and England in 1971. Later in 1986 Kapil Dev's men got it past England. The latest achievement outside India in Test Series was in 1993-94 against Sri Lanka. Such a Test-Series record outside India has given the country a dubious tag. That is, "tigers at home; lambs abroad".
Thus, a leader like Tendulkar, whose sense of commitment has been something extraordinary, would like to make a fresh reputation for his country. The Little Master, on the eve of the team's departure, had expressed his concern on this matter.
He said, "how long can we wear this tag?" That clearly explained that the skipper is determined to go all out to provide a new, higher status for Indian cricket. Does Tendulkar possess the right combination to write a glittering chapter in Australia? The captain, along with Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid form the "terrific batting trio" of the world.
No wonder they occupy the top three places in the current Ceat Ranking of cricketers. This will be Tendulkar's second visit to Australia. In his first tour (1991-92) he carved out a niche for himself with a magnificent Test century. Ganguly too made that trip but did not play a Test match. In fact we did not hear of Ganguly thereafter till he bounced back into international cricket with a debut Test hundred at Lord's. That was followed by yet another century in the next Test (against England in 1996). Since then Ganguly is being rated as one of India's great batsmen with style and conviction. For Dravid, this is the first visit to Australia.
Dravid too hit the international headlines in 1996 in England in his debut Series. Though he had suffered a terrible period (1997-98) as an ODI player, even his worst critics never doubted Dravid's class as a Test match batsman. The 1999 have been a significant year for Dravid who established himself as a world class batsman in both versions of the game.
So the number three, four and five spots in India's Test batting order are occupied by three of the world's best batsmen. Ganguly and Dravid would be longing to prove the world that they could excel on the Australian pitches too. These two men possess the needed technique and temperament to do that. India's two Test openers Sadagopan Ramesh and Debang Gandhi are yet to be "cleared" by some experts.
Those experts are of the view that these two are not technically well-equipped to do anything noteworthy in Australia where seasoned fast bowlers would exploit the pitches. But consider the Test record of these two openers. Ramesh has been doing exceptionally well ever since he made his Test debut in early 1999 against Pakistan in India. Gandhi made his Test debut in recently concluded Series against New Zealand at home.
Ramesh and Gandhi did commendable job during that three-Test Series.Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, the Coach, have expressed their satisfaction over the contribution of these two openers. In the absence of any outstanding opening batsmen in India, the deeds of Ramesh and Gandhi must be seen through their respective rate of success with the bat.
This opening pair deserves to be encouraged so that they bring the desired results. In any form of cricket, a pair of opening batsmen is expected to provide a good, if not a flying, start. Ramesh and Gandhi have, during the Series against New Zealand, proved that point. If they could continue to show the same streak, the trio of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid would build a big innings with greater confidence and fluency. Vijay Bharadwaj, a competent middle-order batsman, is yet to prove his worth through big scores. However, the selectors, continue to show their faith on him.
That should inspire Bharadwaj. Ajay Jadeja will not be there at least for the Test Series against Australia. Hrishikesh Kanitkar has replaced him. Whether Bharadwaj and Kanitkar would find a place each in the playing XI in the Tests, is anybody's guess. So, if one is forced to pick the playing XI for the Tests, at lest for the first Test, on form and reputation the following players are bound to walk into the list: Ramesh, Gandhi, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, MSK Prasad (wicket-keeper), Srinath, Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad. Who will get the other two spots? Will a batsman and a spinner combination be preferred to a paceman and a spinner pair? That is an interesting, if not intriguing, aspect of this 16-member team.
Apart from the nine players mentioned above, there is only one other spinner (Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh). There are two batsmen (Bharadwaj and VVS Laxman). There are three other pacemen (Ajit Agarkar, T.Kumaran and Debashish Mohanty). Kanitkar could as well be considered as an all-rounder. Who from among them would impress the team management and get into the playing XI?