Former Indian all-rounder Reetinder Singh Sodhi feels that Tim Paine’s resignation from Test captaincy days ahead of the Ashes due to a ‘sexting scandal’ will not be a distraction for the Australians, who he hailed are “through professionals”, but added that playing at home won’t add to their advantage as he backed the visiting English side to win the contest that begins from December 8 at Gabba.
In the wake of the scandal that rocked Australian cricket earlier this month, Paine resigned from his role on November 19 to ensure that he would not “become an unwelcome disruption to the team ahead of what is a huge Ashes series.”
Sodhi, during his interaction with Hindustantimes.com on Monday, said that that the management and newly-appointed captain Pat Cummins has a bigger role to play in this scenario to mentally prepare the team for the big contest at home.
“It can have an impact and it might not as well. Australians, as we know, are thorough professionals and they are going through tough times. But again they have all the players who can leave all these things outside the ground, and that will be the way to go about it. If you keep thinking what is going outside then it might affect your performance in such a major series like the Ashes, which is as big as an India-Pakistan contest. Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, coach, whole management has to play a bigger role. If Australia can really pull up their socks, but it won’t be easy as England look a touch better. Australia, playing at home, do have a chance, but they have to play really good cricket because they have been struggling,” he said.
Since 1982, the Ashes has always begun with the Gabba Test when played in Australia and the venue has been their fortress, their pride, having never lost a Test in Brisbane since 1988, until a resilient Indian side broke their streak earlier this year to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Despite the loss, the record streak of 32 years still stands strong, which includes six wins and two draws against England in the Ashes. The last time England won a Test at the Gabba was in 1986, their only fourth win at the venue.
Despite the mighty record, with the veteran cricketer admitting that Australia will be eyeing for that early win at the happy hunting ground, he felt that in-form Joe Root’s men “might have other plans”. He also picked all-rounder Ben Stokes to be their trump card in the series.
“First game sets the tone of the series and both the teams will be fresh. Their bowlers will be fresh. Any team taking a 1-0 lead will have the advantage in the next four Tests. Gabba is their ground, they would like to make it big. They would like to make it count. But playing James Anderson and Stuart Broad won’t be easy because England look a better side. Ben Stokes coming back into the England team will be a trump card. But Australia, with their line-up and the T20 World Cup victory, morally they will be right up there, but to will be a different ball game. White-dress cricket with red cherry, I’m sure England will be eyeing on their batters of course. Joe Root will make it big. First Test will be key with Australia eyeing a win at their happy hunting ground. But England might have other plans because they are the team in form,” he added.
Diplomatically predicting a 3-2 score line in favour of the visitors, Sodhi explained, “they have a very good combination of youngsters and experienced players.”
“Australia are now in an experimentation mode”
A week after stepping down from captaincy role, Paine took an indefinite leave of absence from all forms of cricket “for the foreseeable future”. With just a week left before the series kicks off, Australia now have to choose between Alex Carey and Josh Inglis to fill the spot. And Sodhi has thrown his weight behind the 26-year-old, who is yet to make his international debut.
“Carey definitely, for his experience. He has a better chance. Listening to few things coming in, Inglis has a good chance as well. Australia are now in an experimentation mode. Pat Cummins has become the captain. Will be a big opportunity for Inglis if he is picked because he hasn’t been part of the Ashes before. Pressure-cooker scenario. He can make it big if he can score the runs. He can cement his place in the Australian team. Time will tell,” he explained.
“Performers become captain”
No fast bowler in Australia’s 144-year-old cricket history has led the side in any format on a full-time basis. In 1956 when Australia had visited India, Ray Lindwall, one of the best of his times, led the Aussies but was a stand-in captain in the absence of regular skipper Ian Johnson and vice-captain Keith Miller. Cummins, however, is the first bowler to lead Australia in a format after the great Richie Benaud.
“There is a myth that they can’t be good captains,” Sodhi said. “Few were taking about Jasprit Bumrah becoming the captain of Team India one fine day. Performers become captain irrespective of the whether they are a bowler or a batsman. Cummins may be a surprise, but maybe he has it in him. He is a match-winner. And selectors see a lot in a player before naming them the captain. This series can be testing time for him as bowler who will be up against a well-equipped English side and as a captain it will be interesting to see how he will use his resources. But knowing him a little, I have a strong faith that he will do really well as a captain.”
[Reetinder Singh Sodhi is part of the Hindi Commentary Panel for the upcoming Ashes Tour on SONY TEN 3 from 8th December 2021 to 18th January 2022. Watch the 1st test of The Ashes Tour 2021, LIVE on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels, 5:30 am IST onwards from 8th to 12th December 2021.]