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An End-of-an-Era Series

Actually, the series really is the last big India-Australia series for a generation of players. For the so-called fab four -Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly - of course, but for Kumble and Hayden as well. And who knows, maybe for Ponting, Hussey, Zaheer Khan, Sehwag and Brett Lee too. That really makes an-end-of-an-era series. An era that lasted 7 years from 2001, when perhaps the finest test series of all time was played. If the end can be even half as intense and exciting as that beginning, we could be in for some fun.
Kumble and Harbhajan never lived up to the promise of being lethal spin twins (as Murali and Mendis did in just the one test series they bowled together – in fact, their partnership might be the most potent force Sri Lanka has ever had in the history of their Test cricket) and this is their last opportunity really to make some of that unfulfilled hype worth its while.

Truly, this is a bookend series, and it really does feel as if the next cycle in world cricket dominance is upon us. Australia has its weakest side in almost a decade against an old-generation Indian side perhaps set for its last Hurrah. Or last Big Disappointment.

There has been talk of Australia, for once, starting as the underdog. But that may be stretching the facts because on form, India actually does not have a lot of reasons to be confident. The fab four were drab and uninspiring in Sri Lanka. Dravid's swift decline suggests that the VRS option that the media was being quintessentially controversial about might actually favour him the most. If he plays the waiting game in these conditions, he is highly unlikely to survive the series. Ganguly's game and fitness is under too much scrutiny to be a serious threat to the Aussies. Tendulkar and Laxman have looked good in parts, but ineffective on the whole. Sehwag could be a major factor, if (a big if) he clicks.

The bowling has been even more uneven. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma might not have a lot to do if the pitches play to the home team's strength. But Kumble has looked seriously off-colour for a long time now, and Harbhajan blows hot and cold too often.

Interestingly, Australia's team, man-for-man, looks second-best. Their spinners are inexperienced and come without any attendant fears. Their batting is interesting with the huge figure of Hayden dominating. Ponting has a bad history in India. Clarke and Hussey will be key, both of whom are expected to do well. But beyond that, it is unchartered territory. But then, it is useful to remember that Hayden was an unknown quantity in 2001.

At the end of it all, you can't help thinking - it could all come down to desire. Then, there couldn't be a better way to end this story.
Ganguly's retirement move befits his stature as India's best captain. Without this official farewell period, his place was under serious threat if he failed in the first test match. Now, he is probably a certainty for the first two tests (but it would be very interesting if he fails in both matches). This announcement will put the spotlight on him amongst the individual performers, whilst also freeing him up mentally somewhat – a pretty good combination to achieve. A masterstroke from him.

Ganguly's stature as a batsman is somewhat over-exaggerated though, perhaps. You'd be hard-pressed to think of a batsman of any era who averages around 41 in test cricket and yet has such a fuss made about his retirement. No doubt it is due to his credentials as captain, and here there is good reason to hail him. He was without doubt India's finest captain (between 2001 and 2004) and one of the worst thereafter (post-2004) but those first 4 years at the helm has assured him a certain immortality, which is well-deserved.

But the hard fact is – India does not need him now. There is Dhoni all set to take over as captain (and he looks the part more than anyone ever has), and plenty of hungry young batsmen eyeing a rightful place. On the face of this, it is a smart and sensible decision he has taken. Let's hope his farewell is pleasant; he deserves that too. 
(Click here to know more about Jaideep)

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