India-Australia Chennai Test preview
Chennai: Ahead of the much-anticipated marquee series between India and Australia for the Airtel Gavaskar-Border Trophy (which makes it seem that Airtel is sponsoring Gavaskar and Border) that gets ready to roll on from here tomorrow, all roads seem to lead to the monumental M A Chidambaram stadium. On closer look, it, however, emerges that it is indeed the case because all other streets in the neighbourhood have been dug up for the Metro Rail construction, which going by the looks of it began sometime around when Bill Lawry’s team toured here last. The first task between the two teams, as can be imagined in the circumstances, may be to make it to the stadium on time. Or else, the two teams may be fined for slow driver rate.
Anyway, it is appropriate that Chepauk gets to host the first Test of this series, as it is here that the two teams have played some of the most memorable encounters the game has seen. Who can forget the immortal Tied Test, a contest whose throb and tension challenge imagination even today, especially since much of it was watched by many on the murky and miasmic telecast of Doordarshan.
The Tied Test was remarkable for many things, not the least for Dean Jones’ tour de force of a double century, during the course of which he is supposed to have lost around five to six kilos. Dean Jones, who is here on a media assignment, says ‘I need six months of rigorous workout and extreme dieting to lose that much weight today’. This puts in perspective the value of that innings and, more importantly, the utter ineffectiveness of modern gym training for slimming.
It was also here that India clinched the most iconic series played between the two teams. A series that will forever be remembered for that remarkable feat, the one whose enormity refuses to sink in even today when you look at the scorecard: Yes, holy god, the winning runs were made when Sameer Dighe was in the middle.
The last time too when the two teams squared up in a Test match here in the 2004, there was yet another nail-biting finish. This time it was over whether the weather prediction for a full-day washout would hold or not. The match, otherwise, ended in a tame draw.
Coming back to tomorrow’s match, all eyes are on the pitch, which going by the looks of it, looks like a typical Test match wicket, meaning nobody is sure as to what it will do. Be prepared to hear words like ‘the fourth innings target will be difficult to chase down’. So the essential strategy would be to win the toss, bat first and not enforce the follow-on and avoid the possibility of batting last.
There is a palpable sense of expectation from the Test match aficionados, numbering seven. The rest of the cricket fans are expected to stay indoors and watch it on TV (or follow it on Cricinfo) and bemoan that it is sad that fans no longer come to the stadium. Overall, it’s clear that Test match cricket is on the very brink of extinction — since the 1980s, I should add.
The Aussies are going in with four pacers, and the Indians, on the other hand, may opt for a four-prong spin attack (Ashwin, Bhajji, Ojha, Jadeja) which makes it clear that the two teams are basically setting much store by, what cricket experts call as, hope.
On the batting front, Australia has a relatively inexperienced lineup that has not seen many wins, while India has a more experienced bunch that is not exactly new to losses. In that sense, both the teams are evenly matched.
In any contest that features Sachin Tendulkar the spotlight will willy-nilly be on him with the attendant possibility of some record falling. This time too the Little Master, who has played many classics at the same venue, is the centre of attraction. This is the fifth straight series that he is playing with every one asking ‘will he retire after this?’ This is a new record in recent times, but the all-time record is inevitably with Ajit Agarkar who played all his Tests with every one asking ‘will he retire at least now?’
Test match aficionados in these parts are looking up to this series and expect it to be thrilling because —- this is why Chennai cricket fans are considered knowledgeable — it does not feature Alastair Cook.
For the home fans, there is the distinct possibility of two local stars —- Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay —- making it to the final eleven at this venue. The last time such a historic event happened was, well, you have to turn the clock all the way to last year when a bunch of Kollywood stars played in the CCL.
What is a Test match without a whiff of controversy? The Australia media contingent, which is generally more ill-disposed towards India than the hordes of Mohd Ghori ever were, is cut up by the fact that ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has not been granted permission to cover the series. ‘At this rate, the BCCI may very well end up levying ticket fee for the Aussie players to enter the stadium’, was the general feeling in the Aussie camp. Asked about this, a BCCI official categorically denied any such much move, but he quickly, added to say that it was indeed a good suggestion. ‘We must pursue it sooner than later’.