Sydney Test Preview
Injury concerns plague India as they go into the crucial Sydney Test against Australia on January 2. A report submitted by John Gloster to BCCI (he may in fact write the most revealing memoir of all if he decides to write it and be candid about it) suggests that many of the players carry niggles into games and do not have enough recovery times. Those who do get injured often don't have the support staff in their home towns to help them recover correctly. It looks as though Gloster's concerns may be illustrated all too well at Sydney.
Sourav Ganguly has back trouble, but is said to be recovering well enough to play the Test match. The most worrying injury however is Zaheer Khan's. It is a cruel twist of faith that on a wicket which is expected to be green and lively according to this fine report from Cricinfo, two of India's best hopes on such surfaces - Sourav Ganguly (6 wickets at 26 in 2007 Tests) and Zaheer Khan (41 wickets at 25 in 2007 - Test the best calender year return by an Indian paceman in living memory) are not at full fitness.
India will have to rely on RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma in all likelihood. Rediff reports that India are likely to persist with Rahul Dravid as opener, while Cricinfo speculates that Rahul Dravid may move back into the middle order. They raise an interesting possibility - that of Irfan Pathan opening the batting in Dravid's place. This will enable India to play 5 bowlers, without sacrificing batting depth. Essentially, if Pathan is used as a pinch hitting opener, he is likely to fulfill the Sehwag role (Sehwag at his best may have given India a rousing hundred, but he is not at his best there may not be much in it one way or the other in today's context). India need to strengthen their bowling. If Irfan can be given the licence to play a pinch hitting kind of role, and if that gamble comes off, it might set India off towards great things. If Kumble can win the toss and bat first, it might give Zaheer Khan than extra day to recover as well.
Rediff and Cricinfo have different versions of his injury as well. Cricinfo reports that it is a recurrence of his heel injury (which caused him to miss the Bangalore Test), while Rediff says that he pulled a muscle during practice. Unless Zaheer pulled a muscle in his heel, assuming that both Rediff and Cricinfo have the usual "reliable" sources, one of the two have had been fooled. Or worse, Zaheer pulled a muscle as well as suffered a recurrence of the heel injury. If you look closely at the reports though Cricinfo makes a more detailed report, which seems to suggest that "pulled a muscle" is a part of the peculiar journalistic lexicon which includes phrases like "BCCI officials" and "senior players" - safe, undisputable non-identities which can safely fill up news reports.
The Aussies by contrast look supremely confident as usual and have named an unchanged eleven for the Sydney Test. Shaun Tait misses out again and Bradley Hogg gets his opportunity to cement his acclaimed supremacy over the Indian batsmen. One hopes however, that he gets the opportunity to bowl at the Indian batsmen when the Australians are not on top. That will give him a worthy test. It will also give us the opportunity to find out if Ponting is able to handle him as well (this was a comment i read extolling Ricky Ponting's captaincy by referring to his handling of Bradley Hogg when he was getting hammered in the first innings) and keep him on if he starts going for 4-5 an over with the Indian batsmen in a stand. For that though, the Indians will have to overcome the pace threat first.
Most crucially though, India will wish that Zaheer can thwart both Cricinfo and Rediff, and recover in time to bowl Australia out on a wicket which if Tom Parker is to be believed will suit him.
Here's wishing you all a happy new year.