Relish, rejoice & regale big cricket bonanza in Oz (Column: Close-in)

The glamour and excitement of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the ideal appetiser for millions of Indian cricket fans for the main course to follow. India’s cricket tour to Australia will have three ODIs, three T20Is and, finally, a four-Test match series. The arduous itinerary will bring forth challenges not only on the physical fitness of each player but also on their mental strength.

The IPL has been a boon for the cricketers who were part of it. They will now be able to understand what it entails and how to manage the safety net bubble around them. Furthermore, it also gave the players an opportunity to get fit and match ready after the long isolation that they went through because of the severe pandemic lockdown.

However, the importance, seriousness, and the feeling of patriotism of playing for the country is far different for a cricketer than playing for a franchise-based team. Players from both sides realise the heavy burden and responsibility that comes with wearing their national colours. Therefore, being cocooned with their fellow countrymen as teammates and support staff is not as mentally taxing and burdensome as one encounters playing for a franchise.

The jumbo Indian squad of around 30 players is unique in itself. However, this is not very different from the preparation camps that had become mandatory for an Indian team before embarking on a foreign cricket tour in the earlier days.

Having experienced a few of them during my career, one realised the benefits of it. The togetherness brought in friendship, camaraderie, respect and an opportunity to understand one’s colleagues as well as initiate a feeling of team spirit. The vision and mission of the teams goals seem more clearly defined and understood better by each of the players on account of being in the bubble. This is where Ravi Shastri and his support staff will play a crucial role.

Being isolated and away from any disturbance that normally occurs on a tour, they will now have the complete attention of each of their players. The absence of social and mandatory functions should give them enough time to strategise and prepare. The Australian tour is a long drawn affair and to keep the Indian players mentally fit will be an important task not only for the coach and his colleagues but also for the players to keep each other alive and focused. After all not only will India need to retain the trophy, but they will also have to prove that they are the best cricket team in the world.

India start their tour on November 27 in Sydney with the ODI series. The Australian cricket team and their supporters are looking at this series as one of revenge. In 2018-19, the Indian team was not only victorious in the one-day series, but also for the first time in their history conquered the Australians in a Test series on their soil.

Australia did feel the absence of two of their stalwarts in Steve Smith and David Warner back then. Now, with both back in the saddle they feel they have the firepower to beat India in their backyard. The white-ball cricket will be just a primary cursor to the important four-Test match series in December-January. The important stake to play for is accumulating points for the first Test Championship, especially as India and Australia are at present the two teams at the top of the points table.

This is the ‘Big Fight’, as one would call it in boxing parlance. Both teams having a fiery pace attack, so plenty of short fearsome deliveries to view and excellent batters to see as to how they will negotiate them. This is what makes Test cricket exciting, as it differentiates between the ‘men and the boys’.

The Australians have, as expected, begun their media-based strategy of using their press to strike at their opponents. This has been their ploy for many years and the interesting part of it is that their cricket correspondents, former players, and the senior present players all play their part to perfection. Their aim is to get the visiting team rattled and uncertain, but with Shastri at the helm, one feels these tactics may not be as effective as they may have been earlier.

The Indian team with K.L. Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan in prime form and with Virat Kohli, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Shubman Gill in the reserves, the batting looks pretty strong and formidable. Unfortunately, for India, Hardik Pandya is still not match fit enough to bowl and so Ravindra Jadeja fits in as the only genuine all-rounder.

The One-day Internationals and T20Is should be very well fought series as both Australia and India will want to get the upper hand before the Test series. The challenge faced by India would be as to how they plan to nurse their match winning bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. The good news for India is that Ishant Sharma seems to be on the mend and he along with Bumrah and Shami form the trio on which India will rely on to get them on the winning trail.

The absence of Virat Kohli after the first Test match will be quite a psychological blow for India. Understandably, he needs to be with his wife when they have their first born. The return of Rohit Sharma will be a plus, but the rest of the Indian batters will need to take the responsibility on their shoulders.

The Border-Gavaskar Trophy has plenty to look forward to as it is a huge series for both teams this time around. There will be plenty of whispers and a fair bit of asides as well. This is what cricket encounters are about in the middle amongst professionals. The Australians play their cricket hard, very similar to the present Indian side. However, all words will be forgotten at the end. The IPL has been a major binding factor to create friendships and long lasting relationships, and cricketers have never been so united and together before.

One now looks forward to some seriously hard fought cricket to relish, rejoice, and regale.

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