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No Ishant Sharma, and there is a foreboding of future hurt – cricket

It took me a while before I began truly appreciating how the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. You learn about it at school but it really sinks in when you celebrate a warm Christmas on the beach, sunscreen lotion on, no jacket in sight, as they do in Australia. My first tour to Australia more than a decade ago gave me a deeper understanding of why the Aussie summer is so dearly looked forward to. Summer brings the land back to life, it is a celebration, and part of the summer is cricket. An India tour in the Australian summer is the cherry on the cake, or more appropriately, glazing on the barbeque.

If you’re an Australian fan, you’re revelling already, after a crushing win in the opening round of a two-and-a-half month contest. If you’re an Indian fan, you might be feeling some chills. It was the kind of game after which the uneducated cricket fan attacks the team, and the educated one has a little defence to offer. You know the batting line-up will come to the party and the five bowlers will find their lengths. But if you’ve watched closely, you saw deeper weaknesses were ruthlessly exploited. You recognise symptoms of larger problems. Summer in Australia also comes with a few peculiar maladies, like hay fever. And after the first game, I’m feeling more than my nose twitch.

Where does it hurt the most, a doctor might ask. I’ll tell you: the press release from BCCI saying Ishant Sharma is fully fit. The same one that says he’s ruled out of the Test series. Quarantine rules, requiring a 14-day stay in a hotel room, mean he won’t acquire match fitness in time for the Tests. So why wasn’t he doing rehab with the rest of the squad in Australia like Wriddhiman Saha is?

While all the chat is about India missing Virat Kohli during the Tests, I’m missing Ishant already. I’m missing his round the wicket angle into David Warner. Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah are playing all three formats, and if Navdeep Saini doesn’t pick up the slack, they may not get some much-needed rotation in the limited-overs leg of this tour.

If the lack of a premier fast bowler is an ache in my heart, a foreboding of a future hurt, India’s white-ball team balance is a more tangible pain in the backside. Hardik Pandya, when he last bowled, was shaping up to be the all-rounder India never dared to dream of. In the 2019 ODI World Cup, he was India’s fifth bowler, forget sixth, and did his job more than well. But the balance he brought to the side seems to have been forgotten. Look through the Indian squads here in Australia, and there is no Shivam Dube or Vijay Shankar, no news of any of the regular batters bowling in the nets. In other words, no indication there is a plan B. And do we even want to talk about the Rohit Sharma situation? Go watch Kohli’s press conference. His exasperation at the communication, such as there was, is obvious.

Let’s get into the minor aches: India’s over-rate was abysmal, something that will cost nothing significant (fines, or even deduction of World Cup qualification points, are meaningless since India are the hosts). The fielding was bottom notch. Three of the top-order wickets fell to early short balls. These hurts are curable, even the last, and the team gets used to the bounce. Some other maladies are not—bubble fatigue. The usual succours on a long tour of Australia are complicated. Bringing families along. Taking anonymous walks down streets. Meeting friends and relatives who live abroad while on tour, a comfort I have experienced, is a comfort that cannot be counted on.

This should be the summer of celebration. After two months of electronic sign boards declaring we miss the fans, they are back. Real crowds making real noises, and it means so much for them. A balm on the wounds of this year, a distraction from the duties that will call after the game. The series itself can’t be called a meaningless bilateral any more with points counting towards World Cup qualification.

Yet, India are playing the limited-overs series an all-rounder and premier batter short. For the Tests, we are missing our captain and lead bowler. Writing this on a chilly, grey morning—the kind that makes you wish the water in your shower was a few degrees warmer—I’m thinking, ‘we might have to get used to this’.

Beaches and barbeques might become bruises and burnouts. The summer of celebration could quickly turn into a winter of discontent.

Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer, commentator and writer.

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