The India-Australia test series has been a bit of a disaster. This is what I wrote to my friend Joe Thurbon just before the series started:
I agree with most of your assessments of India. Here are their two main problems. One, the batting is still prone to astonishing collapses. In Melbourne last year, they went from 278-1 to 366 all out. And then in the second innings from 253-4 to 290 odd all out. You will notice that India collapsed badly against Pakistan in the second test before recovering to win the third test. So, its a heavy scoring line-up, but still not as consistent or confident as the Aussie one. Secondly, the fast bowlers, while rapidly improving are still injury-prone, and not very disciplined or experienced. They can go apart in the face of a sustained counter-attack. And if Aussie batsmen figure out that in Kumble and Harbhajan, they are facing two offies, we could be in trouble.
On the Aussie side, I think the main challenges will be seeing how Katich, Martyn and Clarke do in Indian conditions (though all of them play spin really well - Katich in Sydney last year was a treat), and of course, whether Warne will show up. I think the pacers will get lots of wickets.
Dunno about Lee though.
Some of what I said seems to have been borne out by the way the series turned out.
For most of 2004 after the Pakistan series, the Indian batting was on the blink. Most people dismissed this since the failures were happening in one-days but it had to affect form. If you aren't scoring runs, you aren't scoring runs, and the body and the mind knows it. You can reassure yourself that tests will give you more time to settle in, but when the opposition is the Australian team, that hope is a forlorn one. As the Australian series approached, my apprehension grew. And yes, my worst fears came true. Even at Chennai, Dravid/Laxman/Ganguly failed collectively.
Much has been made about the Australian 'plans' for Indian batsmen, but much as I tried, all I could make out was that they were bowling at the stumps and had an extra-midwicket and midon. So this wasn't the only reason for the Indian collapses. A lineup in better form would have figured out how to get around those fields. But yes, perhaps the reason they remained out of form was the fields. Still, I do not remember such an extended run of bad form by so many members of the Indian line-up. Laxman's crisis - while not as numerically dismal - reminded me of Mohinder Amarnath's binary series (0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0) against the West Indies in 1984.
The bowling was reasonably good in patches but we kept on losing someone or the other. The whole series felt a bit strange with the constant list of injuries. Its still a mystery to me - why cannot India keep its bowlers fit? Khan, Pathan and Nehra would make for a very good attack - if they could ever find it in their hearts and minds to be simultaneously fit. Losing Harbhajan for a test was a blow as well.
And then there was the matter of Tendulkar. Just about everyone in India had finally figured out how bad tennis elbows can be when this whole mess was over. I did not expect any miracles on his comeback. Tendulkar, historically, has not been the kind of player who makes huge, dramatic announcements on sporting stages. And the lack of match practice was bound to tell. I don't think that the constant furore about his comeback helped the Indian team mentally. It was almost as if someone is being told constantly "you're not quite there yet, not yet, not quite complete, something is lacking". I would imagine that that sort of buzz is dispiriting.
The washout at Chennai was a real drag - I watched a lot of that test, and it could have been a real thriller. I suspect something went out of India with the disappointment of that draw (sort of the tie-breaker syndrome in tennis - when a tennis player loses the set that follows a close loss in a tie-breaker).
Despite what people said about the pitch at Mumbai, it should be noted that two teams played, and one team won (thats not a tautology). Shouldn't the better team have won? But Australia didn't. India did. Part of this was because of dead-rubber syndrome but another part was that Australia are vulnerable, like any other team, to quality spin attacks on turners. Just like all teams are vulnerable to pace attacks on fast pitches (I don't recollect anyone ever complaining about test matches in Perth ending quickly). Ponting can kvetch all he wants, but last time I checked both teams were playing on the same surface.
Indian cricket remains a mystery. For all the advances that looked possible at the beginning of the year, the end of the year seems to suggest a reversion. The outcricket still looks spotty. The opening batsman problem is still not solved (one created by disastrous handling of Akash Chopra). The famous batting lineup does not produce consistently enough (and it still looked out of sorts against South Africa). The wicketkeeper problem has not been solved yet (Karthik still looks dicey against spinners). Only the spinners are doing well (but I don't expect this run to continue overseas on different pitches).