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Taylor's unfinished agenda

A series win on the subcontinent. Give him that and Mark Taylor would have achieved everything he ever wanted to as captain of Australia. He probably will never have a better chance than over the next couple of months as he leads the baggy green brigade against an Indian team which appears to have lost its focus on Test cricket altogether.

Australia plays a fair amount of one-day cricket but the selectors have, despite numerous errors of both commission and omission, managed to keep the focus on Test cricket. A steady stream of talent is emerging and most of it is being channelled either into the Test or one-day teams. There are now separate captains and things are leading to the point when there would be two teams altogether. In fact, there is so much talent in domestic Australian cricket that a run of bad form ensures that one is left out. A case in point is Mathew Elliott who lost his place in the team to Michael Slater.

Even though Australia is going to India without Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie or Simon Cook, Taylor has sufficient resources in Michael Kasprowicz, Paul Reiffel and Paul Wilson. He has the luxury of having Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill and off-spinner Gavin Robertson as well. And he has reliable batsmen aplenty to call on from one downwards. He has a settled team.

India has played five Tests in the last four months and all of them have ended in draws. All of them have also been against the same opponent, Sri Lanka. In between there have been innumerable one-day internationals, against every country barring the Honduras. This spate of one-dayers has led to people being displaced from the team and then brought back. It has led to innumerable players being tried in search of elusive victories.

Meddling by the selectors has dragged Indian cricket down. Sachin Tendulkar's being jettisoned as captain in favour of Mohammed Azharuddin was engineered by a selector. The abdunace of players from Karnataka was the doing of another selector. And the numerous quota candidates who have got a tour apiece -- that is also the work of this selector or that. The past two years has seen Indian cricket plumb the depths.

What will the Indian game plan be this time? Will it be the usual one of trying to ensure the team wil not lose before trying for a win? Or will Azharuddin, now that he has nothing to fear as far as the captaincy goes, try something a bit more innovative? More interesting what kind of pitches will the Indians serve up? Faster ones in the hope that the recovered Javagal Srinath and his sometime-there sometime-absent new ball partner Venkatesh Prasad can exploit them? Or will the time-honoured tactic of preparing slow piches continue?

The problem is that Australia has plenty of both types of bowlers to exploit the same wickets -- and probably much better than the Indian bowlers. Anil Kumble, another who has been in and out of the team in recent times, is no class when compared to Warne and Rajesh Chauhan is now again on the sidelines due to his bowling action. Who will share the task with Kumble if he is to do what he did some years ago at home?

As far as the batting goes, India will again have to look to the talents of Azhar, Tendulkar, the newly resurgent Saurav Ganguly and the steady Rahul Dravid. All good batsmen on their day but, barring Dravid, all the others have been focused on the task of scoring fast and winning one-dayers. They have fared well against Lanka in the five inconclusive Tests played last year but that is neither here nor there. For all their one-day talents, the Lankans are not exactly the team to test one's mettle over five days.

Azharuddin will be up against an aggressive leader in Taylor, a man who has won 21 of the 39 Tests in which he has been captain. Taylor has lost 10 and this more than anything is because he has always gone for a result, even when a series is decided. Sometimes he has been faulted for this but he has kept games alive. Given all this, though India will have the home advantage I would give this series to Australia by one game.