Australia are thought to be the champions of mental disintegration in the way they go after the opposition. They are, in any case, a supremely talented outfit that has used science and technology, a natural ruggedness and a national passion for sport to take the game to a new level.
But beyond that, everything the world champions do is carefully planned towards psyching out their rivals. It’s evident in the way they prepare (and advertise those preparations, like the military-style training ahead of last year’s Ashes).
It’s evident in their aggressive body language, individually and collectively — on the field and off it. It’s there in the verbal byplay when they’re playing matches and the mindgames and verbal volleys that go in the run-up to big series. It’s a superb strategy and it works more often than not.
Living on the edge
Most teams are already so worked up about taking on the world champions that they are on an edge. And faced with an onslaught of the kind that India faced on the first morning of the first Test of a hugely important series, watched by nearly 70,000 fans — most of who were baying for Indian blood — most teams would have caved in.
England did last year, Sri Lanka did last month. The fact that India did not on Boxing Day might make all the difference to how this series goes. Australia nine down for 337 at stumps after being 111-0 at lunch is an quite an unbelievable scoreline.
Man in denial?
In fact, Matthew Hayden — without whose sixth Boxing Day Test century in seven seasons the hosts would have been in far worse shape — seemed in denial when he faced the media at day’s end.
For someone who had just scored a ton, he seemed strangely on the defensive and went to great lengths to emphasise how tough the wicket was to bat on.
The implication of course was that that was why the Aussies losing nine wickets on Day 1 was par for the course. “It was quite tricky” the southpaw stated.
“The ball held on the wicket, it bounced a little. The hardest conditions were at the start of the day, from overs nought through 30. Then we found ways to get out. It was a difficult pitch to bat on, and I expect it to be that way throughout the game. That’s why we had decided that the best way forward would be to bat first if we win the toss.”
And then, in case anyone didn’t get the picture, he re-emphasised the point. “The conditions were tough, and it will be more difficult to score as the match progresses. It’s very, very hard to score on, and it will remain so over the next three days.
We will try and put pressure on India with in-out fields, try and constrict them because I think the wicket will deteriorate.”
Not a wicked wicket
The wicket, which locals say has been flat and slow for most of the domestic season, stayed flat and slow, taking a bit of turn on this day too. There was little of that bounce that the Indians saw at the MCG last time around. In fact, if India treat this like they do the wickets at home, or maybe not quite but close enough, they should do very well here.
Of course, there is a difference. Kumble, who took five wickets, played a lone hand for long stretches of the game. Even while he was quick to say later that Harbhajan was unlucky, the offie never really looked like he would win himself a scalp.
Then, while Zaheer bowled very well in patches and got Ponting with that superb delivery, neither he nor RP Singh seemed to bend his back. The Aussie trio of Lee, Johnson and Clarke can be guaranteed to do that and get some more carry out of this surface.
However, that can be a double-edged sword, as, while it might induce the edges and snicks, it would also bring the ball nicely onto the bat. If India focus, they could make this match their own over the next two days, when the wicket will probably be best for batting. And that would be something.