PARTAB RAMCHAND | 9 DECEMBER, 2018
Indians Cannot Afford to be Complacent
Onus on Indian batsmen
The most eagerly awaited Test series in a long time unfolds before our eyes. Almost everyone seems to be convinced that this is India’s best chance to win a series in Australia – something they have never done in eleven visits spread over 71 years – but as Indian coach Ravi Shastri said a while ago ``no team is weak at home’’ and the tourists would do well to keep that in mind.
Yes, on the face of it the Aussies look anything but formidable and they have problems on and off the field arising from the unhappy events at Cape Town earlier this year. But as the hard fought shared T20 series indicated the Indians cannot afford to be complacent. In any case the Indian are not good travelers and this is underscored by the losses in the Test series in South Africa and England earlier in the year.
Also while everyone is convinced that India are the favourites the fact remains that at least twice in the past the visitors have come up against comparatively weak opposition and yet could not close out the series. In 1977-78 against an Australian side bereft of the leading players who had defected to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket the Indians lost the five-match series 3-2.
The following year England routed virtually the same opposition winning the six-Test series 5-1 putting the Indian performance in the proper perspective. Eight years later the Aussies were being beaten by almost every team. West Indies, New Zealand and England defeated them twice each in a Test series and yet India were held in the three-match series with all matches ending in draws.
The point to note is that you can never really write off an Aussie team particularly when they are playing at home. They are the sport’s traditional fighters for whom no match is lost till it is won. Though the Indian team is ranked No 1 to Australia’s No 5 it is not exactly formidable and the Aussies will come hard at them especially now when they have nothing to lose having virtually been dismissed as no-hopers.
However much the bowling standards have improved over the years batting has always been Indian cricket’s traditional strength. And yet before the team’s departure for Australia Virat Kohli made it a point to mention that it was up to the batsmen to ``show more character’’. While expressing his satisfaction about the bowling attack at his disposal he hoped that the batsmen would rise to the occasion.
Kohli hit the nail on the head for it has been batting problems that have been the cause of failures in South Africa, England and Australia. Quite often the bowlers have performed higher than their level only for the batsmen not playing up to their potential. The recent tour of England was a case in point. The series was lost 4-1 largely due to batting failures and it was pretty much the same situation in South Africa.
In the absence of the banned trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft Australia are considered to be weak opposition but to be candid it is only their batting that is affected by the unavailability of the three. The bowling is unaffected and here the Australians are well served by the quartet of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. Even against the strong Indian batting line-up they could be expected to strike at regular intervals.
So the onus is on the Indian batsmen to come good and live up to their lofty reputation. They have the opportunity to show that they can score runs away from home and will be encouraged by the fact that besides Kohli, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane were among the runs four years ago while Cheteshwar Pujara was not exactly a failure.
Conditions in Australia are generally good for batting even with the wickets having that extra pace and bounce. It would appear that the Indian line-up is good enough to tackle the menace of the pace trio and the experienced off spinner.
The Australian batting admittedly is the weaker link and it is here that the Indian bowling has to deliver. The firepower in the pace attack ably supported by the spinners gives the bowlers the opportunity to live up to their captain’s boast. Kohli while praising the bowling on the eve of the tour said that after a long time it appears ``we have an attack that can pick up 20 wickets in every game.’’ One would agree with this view as also with the opinions of many experts who have said that Indian pace attack is the best of all time. With the Aussie batting looking fragile this is the time for the bowlers to come good and with all due respects to the spin trio of Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav it is the pace quintet of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar that ultimately holds the key to India living up to their tag of favourites.
Also a key factor in India’s favour is that the Aussies seem to be divided as to their approach to the series. Following the events at Cape Town Cricket Australia conducted a detailed review of the Aussie cricket culture which revolved around the ``win at all costs’’ attitude that has been the trademark of Australian cricketers. This has led to the players’ behavior hitting an all time low which resulted in the ``cheating’’ charge that the ball tampering incident invited. Basically the call from CA was to tone down the theatricals and the language and words like ``patience’’, ``team culture’’ and ``elite honesty’’ used in the review attracted a lot of attention.
Even as the discussion was going on whether the Aussies can make the transformation from the ``bad guy’’ to the ``good guy’’ image and yet keep on winning former captain Michael Clarke came out with scathing criticism of the new approach saying that this way the Aussies would win nothing. He maintained that playing it tough was in the Aussie blood and this would yield dividends but he was countered by current captain Tim Paine and former batsman Simon Katich. Paine said that Australia were not concerned about being liked one bit by opposition teams and were principally concerned with finding a way to win by playing hard Australian cricket while regaining the trust and respect of the Australian public.
Katich thought that Clarke had missed the main point. ``The point is we were caught for blatantly cheating and we have to rectify that as soon as possible to earn back the respect of the cricketing public in Australia and worldwide. We have been a disliked team for a number of years because of the on field behavior and it obviously came to a head at Cape Town. They can still play the Australian way in terms of playing competitive and playing fairly but not getting over the top and going across the rules like they did in Cape Town.’’
The Aussie team that takes the field against India would appear to be caught in two minds with regard to their approach and this is another factor that can work in India’s favour.