The three-nation Series is now six matches old. Australia is in command, leading the league points table with eight points from five matches. Pakistan has four points from four outings and India is yet to open its account, losing all the three encounters. On Friday, India will take on Pakistan at Hobart. India has had a long rest from cricket since January 15.
Normally, in a league programme, such a prolonged 'rest' would help teams, especially those who have been at the receiving end, to gain the needed mental and physical strength. Will India drive home that point on Friday? The absolute dependence on the skills and class of Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid drove Indian batting to the wilderness in this tour. The lesser lights in the team should have risen to the occasion whenever this famous trio had failed. Robin Singh, the ODI specialist, was the lone exception.
The Indian bowlers have sparkled on a number of occasions in this tour. But then, with their batsmen colleagues struggling in vain to obtain an "international touch", the bowlers just could not apply sustained pressure to change India's fortunes. Moreover, on this tour, India did not possess the bowling material to achieve a balance in its attack. That turned out to be a huge handicap, for Australia and Pakistan are the two best bowling sides in the world now.
In the Test series, India went to the games with just one spinner in Anil Kumble. For the ODI Series, it brought in off-spinner Nikhil Chopra and left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi. The latter is yet to play a match. In the three matches played thus far, the Indian bowling did not wear the looks of a 'winning' combination. No doubt, Srinath, ably supported by Venkatesh Prasad, excelled in the third match at Sydney against Australia. But India was defending just 100 runs in that match.
In India's first match too (v Pakistan in Brisbane on January 10) Srinath was outstanding. But India was defending a meagre 195 runs, and Pakistan earned a "last-ball" victory through its ninth-wicket pair. In India's second match (v Australia in Melbourne on January 12) Ganguly (100) and Dravid (60) promised an Indian resurrection, but the team, chasing 270, could not go beyond 241 for six in the allotted 50 overs. So India must be hoping for a collective effort from its batsmen to make a terrific impact on this three-nation ODI Series.
No doubt, India should also form a bowling combination that would ensure variety to keep the rival batting line-up under constant pressure. A tall order indeed for a touring team whose morale is very low. But then reputations are made and regained at the international level through meticulous planning and systematic execution. India has five more league matches in this Series. Will Hobart witness India making a significant start? Millions of Indian cricket followers are optimistic enough to entertain such a hope.