England have been banished and the next victim in India’s sights is Australia. It’s reached the point where even someone as positive as ex-captain Ricky Ponting says, “As long as they can find a way to be really competitive through the Test series, I don’t think it’ll be that big a deal if Australia lose.”
Australia’s tour of India is looming as a repeat of that macabre scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail; “Bring out your dead.” Is it really that hard playing in India?
Well it is if you go by the records. India have lost only one of their last twenty series at home and that was to England in 2012-13. Before that it was Australia in 2004-05 when India felt the sting of defeat at home.What makes this feat even more remarkable is that many of the overseas players now regularly tour India playing in the highly successful IPL tournament.
In theory overseas cricketers should be more comfortable playing in India rather than becoming increasingly estranged. However, it seems that lessons learned playing T20 bear no relationship with performing in the Test arena. It could also mean Indian teams are stronger than those of the past.
There’s no doubt India have a strong batting line-up but that’s been the case for more than two decades. Since the advent of the IPL, India’s fielding (apart from slip catching) and athleticism have improved greatly. However spin bowling, which has been the chief reason behind the demise of visiting teams, is another matter. From the late sixties into the mid-seventies India was extremely well served with Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, a trio of wily, highly competitive spinners.
Nevertheless, when the 1969-70 Australian team toured, I felt we could win in India. This was based on having a batting line-up that was adept at playing spin, in addition to a fine pace bowler in Graham McKenzie and an extremely good off-spinner in Ashley Mallett. I believed we could accumulate three hundred runs in the first innings under most conditions and that would keep us competitive. We achieved that target in all but one Test (which we won), as the Madras (Chennai) pitch was a difficult one.
Those Australian players toured India after a winter working at their respective jobs, two weeks in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and one lead-up match against West Zone. I didn’t plan to change my style of batting in India but I did make some minor adjustments during the series.
Contrast that buildup with the preparation planned for the current Australian side. It includes some players practicing on specially prepared pitches in Brisbane, with English spinner Monty Panesar joining the sessions, a spin-oriented training camp in Dubai and consultant coach Sridharan Sriram advising on how to play in India.
All these well-intentioned endeavours may help a little but in some cases, they could hinder. Learning to play spin bowling efficiently starts at a young age and for someone who is a little unsure, a concentrated stint on turning pitches could lead to confusion. At the very least it might result in a player formulating a plan that he discovers doesn’t work under match conditions and he’s then left floundering.
One thing that intrigues me about the modern concept of playing spin bowling is risk assessment. In many cases, leaving the crease is not seen as an option but playing pre-meditated shots, which present far more risk, are attempted without a second thought.
There’s an obsession with sweeping, which in all but rare cases isn’t the way to dominate good spinners who are well captained. Combating good spinners is about learning the lesson of quick decisive footwork at a young age, rather than cramming for a difficult exam at the last minute.
If the Australian batsmen are in the pavilion, unsure or confused about how to play Ravichandran Ashwin and company, the crowd noise will have a ring to it that sounds a lot like that dreaded cry; “Bring out your dead.”