The last time India lost a home series was more than four years ago, when Monty Panesar combined with fellow spinner Graeme Swann to lead England to a shock win. No team or spinner has since tormented the India batsmen like the duo did then. It was inevitable then that the Aussies would go to Panesar to get him to work with their spinners, ahead of what could easily turn out to be a daunting series against India this month.
While the Australian team has reached Dubai, where they will spend a week training on simulated pitches before they land in India on February 13, Panesar has picked left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe as a potential threat to the Indian batsmen.
Panesar, who is playing club cricket in Australia as part of his injury rehab, spent a few days with the Aussies in Brisbane, and his mantra is, “Safety first. I told them when you bowl to Indian stroke-players on Indian pitches try not to let them hit you for boundaries. Try defensive lines, mix them up with wicket-taking deliveries and that’s how you can succeed.”
Panesar also made them aware of what Indian batsmen did to English spinners recently, telling them how four good balls followed by a couple of loose ones only added to the English headache.
“We did that in 2012, when Swann and I denied India batsmen boundaries. They were not prepared for that and in trying to create strokes where there were none, they fell. In India the outfields are quick, so the spinners have to concentrate and bowl dot balls. Batsmen like Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and others will come hard at you. Deny them early blood. Defend from one end, attack from the other,” Panesar told HT in an exclusive chat from Australia.
“I will be very surprised if the result of the series will be any different to the one between India and England recently but if Australia adapt well and bore the Indian batsmen, you never know what could happen.”
Australia have picked four spinners in Nathan Lyon, O’Keefe, Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson.
“Lyon has the experience of bowling in India but I feel O’Keefe is a phenomenal spinner, who can make quick adjustments. Most importantly, he knows how to set up a batsman’s wicket.”
Panesar feels that, “If there is turn in the wicket, a spinner needs to be attacking and take control. Indian batsmen will look at big first-innings scores so that’s where they will set up the Tests. They stay at the wicket for huge amount of time and create perfect settings for their bowlers. So, Australia batsmen will also hold the key as they too need to bat for 120-odd overs to let their bowlers any chance.”
Panesar, who has offered himself in the IPL auction pool (Feb 20), feels the IPL has served as a perfect platform for India’s young talent to bloom. “The IPL exposure might give Aussies some clue about certain venues but it won’t help them much as their bowling would also have been exposed to Indian batsmen.”
He did not rule out ‘sledging’ in the series and Australians using it as a tactic to put India off. “Australians are known to express themselves on the field. They have done it in the past. They can use sledging as a tactic to provoke the opposition. When top teams like India and Australia are facing off, this action cannot be ruled out but they must remember what they are running into. Virat has changed Indian team’s fortunes since he took over as captain. If Australia really want to come heavily on the Indians, they need to get his wicket early which will put pressure on others. Virat, Ashwin and Jadeja will be crucial for the Australians.”