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DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
TWELFTH MAN

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India

Australia’s reign as finest team is over

An Injured Patrick Cummins (L) will miss the four Tests against India

t can be disorienting to think of just how much cricket has changed since India last toured Australia. The Indian Premier League has given dozens of players an opportunity to earn a good living outside of the international arena. Australia's Big Bash, which the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne will have to share headlines with, is about to follow suit. India's interminable wait for post-1983 World Cup glory is over, as is Australia's reign as cricket's finest team.

There are many that think India will never have a better chance of winning a series in Australia. Back in 2008, the team that India beat at the WACA in Perth had won 16 matches on the trot. The current vintage were recently bowled out for 47 at Newlands, and, more embarrassingly, skittled for just 136 in Hobart by a New Zealand attack that had no one remotely in the Dale Steyn class.

But it's also an Australian line-up that's looking to the future, with a young group of genuinely quick pace bowlers. Patrick Cummins, whose interventions with bat and ball on debut helped to square the series in South Africa, will miss the four Tests against India with a foot problem, but James Pattinson – who was man of the match in his first outing at The Gabba recently – is just as quick and promising. Mitchell Starc has got his chance, while Josh Hazlewood, who Greg Chappell reckoned was the pick of those he coached to the U-19 World Cup in 2010, is on the recovery trail after serious injury.

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The Aussies were recently bowled out for 47 at Newlands, and, more embarrassingly, skittled for just 136 in Hobart by a New Zealand attack that had no one remotely in the Dale Steyn class.

India's own preparations have taken a hit with the injuries that have ruled out Praveen Kumar and Varun Aaron. Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar, so potent for Karnataka a couple of seasons ago, are the beneficiaries, though neither is likely to displace Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav from the playing XI.

The injuries to Cummins and Aaron are indicative of a wider trend that needs to be investigated. For a while now, the talk has been of too much cricket, of itineraries that don't allow recovery from persistent niggles. In the case of Cummins, and especially Aaron, that's certainly not the case. Aaron is now 22 and has bowled just 2201 deliveries in first-class cricket. Having watched the one-day series in England from the sidelines and then having sat out the first two Tests against West Indies, he could probably have done with more bowling. Along with "How much is too much?" the other question coaches and trainers will have to answer soon is: "Does mothballing a bowler also lead to injury?" Many modern-day pros spend hours in the gym, but rarely possess the match fitness that allowed some of their predecessors to bowl 30 overs a day. Fast bowling in particular involves a series of unnatural movements, and no amount of chiselled muscle can substitute for flexibility, rhythm and endurance.

To put the overwork theory into perspective, consider this. In 1981, a year that cricket remembers primarily for Botham's Ashes, the England allrounder also bowled 1811 deliveries for Somerset, taking 33 wickets. The same year, Richard Hadlee, whose mastery extended to every sort of pitch, took 105 wickets for Nottinghamshire while bowling 4252 balls.

Botham and Hadlee bowled nearly 44,000 deliveries between them in Test cricket alone. Neither possessed a body that would have made them candidates for a Gold's Gym advertisement, but in their prime both were genuinely quick. There's a lesson in there for those entrusted with charting a course for young pace bowlers.

As for young batsmen, perhaps they'd benefit from playing less, especially in the sort of placid conditions that have made a mockery of the current Ranji Trophy season. The minute the same players are asked to perform at a Newlands or Hobart, they end up making Chris Martin look like Hadlee. Of the 41 batsmen that average over 50 in Test cricket, 19 have played at least part of their cricket in the 2000s – with heavier bats, smaller boundaries and anodyne pitches. Only a halfwit would suggest that Thilan Samaraweera is a better batsman than King Viv was. Administrators and curators have a lot to answer for.

 
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