Australia and a dream of 'conquering' India

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Australia and a dream of 'conquering' India

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Bastab K Parida


“It’s going to be a very difficult series going over there. We’re going to have to play some very good cricket if we want to compete over there. It’s a completely different place to play. Playing on those wickets is nothing like playing here in Australia.”

The statement came from Steve Smith, the Australian captain after the series win against Pakistan at home in January. Considering the shambolic display in the home series against South Africa in late 2016, that victory was colossal. But the sternest of tests awaits the Aussies now as Steve Smith’s boys will take on an unrestrained Virat Kohli-led side, which has been on a 20-match unbeaten streak.

Like many of his predecessors, Smith knows that his captaincy reign would be defined by this Indian tour. He also knows that they can’t show brash chutzpah to succeed here and would rather need to go about their business step by step, session by session. 

But, it is a task easier said than done. Since that famous Test series in 2001, Australia have crossed the 400-run mark in India only on seven occasions from 29 completed innings. In the 2004-05 tour, thanks to a young debutant Michael Clarke, who had kept seasoned campaigners like Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh at bay, Australia achieved a 2-1 series victory, their only successful tour since the turn of the new millennium. 

Their weaknesses in forging partnerships and taking wickets in Asian conditions were brutally exposed during last year’s tour to the Emerald Isle when they were whitewashed 3-0. Their spinners couldn’t turn the ball sufficiently enough to deceive the Lankan batsman at a time when the spin trio of Sri Lanka in the form of veteran Rangana Herath and young Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan picked wickets like apples in the garden.

For this tour, Australia have picked as many as five slow-bowling options. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon and left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe are sure to get a go at the first place, but the squad also has the likes of Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson, and Glenn Maxwell. But on closer examination, it seems like a gamble, because it was Australia’s disciplined pace-bowling attack that had helped them win the series against India in 2004-05. Despite the presence of the inimitable Shane Warne, it was the pace duo of Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath, who were the top two wicket-takers for the Aussie side, with 20 and 14 scalps respectively. 

Although it may sound astonishing, the majority of foreign bowlers to have been successful in India have been the pacers. Of the 23 overseas bowlers to have taken 20 or more wickets in India since the start of the 1980s’, nine of the top-10 leading bowling averages as well as nine of the top 10 strike rates and eight of the top 10 economy rates, belong to the pacers. It has been a land where the overseas spinners, even of Shane Warne’s reputations, have failed to live up to their lofty reputations.

That's where Australia stands apart from previous visitors England and New Zealand who left the subcontinent humiliated - they have a real fast bowling duo. New Zealand were hobbled by the injury to Tim Southee, who was extremely successful during the Kiwis' last tour, leaving Trent Boult to wage a lone battle. England were similarly undone by the injury to Jimmy Anderson, while Stuart Broad saw him out on the way to the infirmary leaving the visitors to rely a tad bit too much on their slow bowlers.

In this series, Australia's attack will be spearheaded by Mitchell Starc, who has become a vastly improved bowler since the horrible tour of 2013. Of late, it has also been seen in India that the red SG balls are getting sufficient amount of reverse swing and Starc, along with his partner Josh Hazlewood, are pretty accomplished at reversing the ball. 

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That does not, however, take the importance away from their spinners. In the form of Nathan Lyon, Australia has an experienced campaigner in their ranks. Left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe too had taken 14 wickets on the Australia-A tour of India 2015, including a 6 for 118 against India A side that featured the likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Obviously, he has the potential and if he can do well in India, then their batting order can breathe well. 

Australia's batting as well has seen an upturn since their last visit. David Warner, Australia's vice-captain and one of the greatest batsmen of the current times, has come a long way since his last tour to India, where he could muster only 195 runs from eight innings at an average of 24.37. After that, he has developed himself by leaps and bounds and can be the main threat for Ashwin and co. Similarly, Steve Smith, thanks to his IPL experience and super endurance level, will stand in front of Indian bowlers as the wall to break. 

Australia would also do well to tweak their scoring tactics. In Indian conditions, the best way to counter quality spinners is rotating the strike. If the batsmen can rotate the strike regularly, singles would come easily and the bowler will become impatient, which will help the batsmen to go for boundaries in loose deliveries. It is the process that Virat Kohli has been doing for some time now and the results are in front of us to see. Australian batsmen need to curb their natural instincts and should play carefully. 

In last two decades, Australia have won almost everywhere in the world. This decade, however, leave alone Australia, all teams have found it tougher to win away from home.

In 2013, when Clarke’s men were pitted against an Indian side which was busy fighting their own demons after being trampled by England in their own den, inexperience was put as the major reason for their 4-0 debacle, their first clean sweep in a long time. But, now they can hope. Hope to turn around the history books. Hope to give India a reality check. Hope to emulate Adam Gilchrist and co.'s 2004 heroics. 

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