"It costs me to say it but this golden age of Australian cricket, from Mark Taylor to Ricky Ponting via Steve Waugh, through which they produced a whole regiment of modern greats, gave Test cricket a longer lease of the cricketing limelight than it might have had in the normal course of cricket history. If we're at the end of Australia's modern heyday, we might well be looking at the end, not of Test cricket, but of its reign as the hegemonic form of the game."
Sounds ominous, except that it's a little over-the top. Test cricket hasn't had much of a hegemony since the beginning of the decade, at least not for most fans. Of course everybody appreciates a good Test series and all that, but that's not the same thing as dominance or primacy. If this series turns out to be less than spectacular, it's not going to suddenly change people's view of Test cricket. Besides, there's another very good series coming up in a few months - England under Pietersen versus South Africa in South Africa, which should also be a good advertisement for Test cricket.
That's not to say that the series won't be exciting. There definitely are a lot of questions that will be asked of both sides, as both Mukul's and Ian Chappell's articles note. One contest they both don't mention strongly enough, though, is how Sehwag and Gambhir take on the Aussie opening bowlers. The last time the Australians were here, the fast bowlers were willing to set conservative fields and choke the boundaries. That worked since the bowlers were of the quality of McGrath and Gillespie, backed up by the experience of Michael Kasprowicz and the spin of Shane Warne. What the Indians may want to look at though, is the tour before that, in 1998, when Australia came with a fairly inexperienced pace attack and the openers along with Dravid at 3 were able to dominate them and neutralize Warne, setting up the series win in the process.
This time around, Gambhir could play a very important role - he's coming off 50's in 3 consecutive Tests in a series where the rest of the batsmen mostly faltered, and he's great at rotating the strike, which is something that will help to stave off the pressure if the boundaries dry up for Sehwag. Given that Dravid doesn't have too many domestic matches in which to find form, how the openers do could decide the fate of the series. And if Dravid doesn't seem to be coping so well at number 3, a case may be made for switching positions with Laxman who is in slightly better form - it's been done before, with some success.
The other aspect that India's going to have to decide on is whether to go in with 5 bowlers or 4. Sourav Ganguly may still make it to the squad, but maybe they should consider 5 bowlers for the first test at least, before the Australians get completely acclimatised. Maybe Irfan Pathan, so there's a bit of batting back-up as well, though a more attacking option would be Munaf. I doubt if they'll be very adventurous with team choices though. My 15 for the squad would be: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma - all 10 likely to play, Ganguly, Pathan, Munaf, Piyush Chawla and Badrinath. It would be unfair to keep Ganguly out of the squad - he's been one of the best Test batsmen for India in the last couple of years if you go by the numbers.
Anyway, it should be a fairly entertaining series. Too bad it's all on Neo Sports, though.
Will resume posting on more comment-inducing subjects later. Just been a while since I talked about cricket, that's all.