India Has An Edge Over The Aussies
No team’s record emphasises the home advantage better than India’s
The last time India lost a Test series at home was in 2012 when England won the four-match contest 2-1. Since then India has ridden roughshod over all opposition heavyweights and lightweights the highlight being a 4-0 rout of Australia in 2013. No team’s record emphasises the home advantage better than India’s. Among all teams they have the best record in their own backyard and as such are feared opponents. Winning a series here is the ultimate aim of visiting teams even if it is almost Mission Impossible.
For Australia who arrive on these shores in a few days it would appear to be ‘The Final Frontier’ all over again. The phrase was coined by Steve Waugh when he made it clear that his ambition was to win a Test series in India. That was in 2001 when he brought a team that had registered 15 straight victories.
With players of the calibre of the captain, his twin brother Mark, Matthew Hayden, Michael Slater, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist it still has to be one of the strongest squads to visit India. And when they wrapped up the first Test at Mumbai in three days, by ten wickets, it appeared that it was only a matter of time before ‘The Final Frontier’ had been conquered.
But thanks to Kolkata 2001 the events of an epic that have been well chronicled the world record of 16 straight wins was ended. It was only the third time in Test history that a team won after following on. The tide had turned and with a memorable win in the final Test at Chennai India squashed Waugh’s hopes and ambitions. Australia had last won a Test series in India in 1969 and would not win again till 2004.
That’s the last time the Aussies have won a Test series in India so it looks like it is time for ‘The Final Frontier’ again. Pat Cummins hasn’t yet talked about the impending tour in those terms but there is little doubt that the Aussies want to win the contest badly. They certainly have prepared assiduously for it, have selected a strong, balanced outfit and are coming early enough to acclimate themselves.
But the home team is not far behind in their own preparations. They too have announced their squad early and mentally and physically they have given themselves enough time to be ready for a series that promises to be a scorcher. After all, what else can it be when the contestants are the two top ranked countries?
It is clear that the visitors are of the view that their batting is strong enough to face the challenge on whatever pitches are placed before them. These days it is not taken for granted that the surfaces will be tailor-made for spin as the Indian pace attack too is among the best in the contemporary game.
A line-up that starts with David Warner and Usman Khawaja and continues with Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head and Alex Carey can be expected to come good against the varied Indian attack. But it is also clear that the Aussie think tank feels that bowling will ultimately prove to be decisive and they have included a balanced attack with more emphasis on spin than usual.
Australia’s pace attack has always been lethal even in India but spin too has played a part. Right from Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson and Graham McKenzie in the 50s and 60s to the more recent Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Mitchell Johnson Aussie pace bowlers have found ways and means to take wickets in India even when at times the pitches have not been very helpful.
Spinners have generally played a supporting role since the days of Richie Benaud and Ashley Mallett in the 50s and 60s. Even Shane Warne’s figures in India are not the kind he remembered fondly. On the last two visits however it has been the spinners who have been more successful than the pacemen.
In the last Test series played in this country five years ago Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon relegated the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to minor placings when it came to the wicket taking act.
Perhaps taking a cue from this the selectors have packed the squad with spinners to go along with the pace quartet of Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Scott Boland to cover all bases. Besides the vastly experienced and highly successful Lyon there is the left arm spin of Ashton Agar, the leg spinners of Mitchell Swepson and uncapped off spinner Todd Murphy.
Four spin bowlers in a touring squad is unusual but this way the Aussies are well prepared if turning tracks are placed before them though they probably missed a trick in this regard by omitting Adam Zampa who has a proven record.
However, Gilchrist who is of the view that Australia can win the series has advised the management to keep faith in their pace attack which he believes is capable of completing the task. Indeed one feels that despite the plethora of spin bowlers the quartet of fast bowlers could well hold the key if Australia are to have any chance of winning their first Test series in India after 19 years.
Similarly the Australian batsmen one reckons would put tackling the Indian spinners as their topmost priority however good the Indian pace attack is. Labuschagne for one is already planning moves to tackle Ashwin and company. Surely he is not alone among the Aussie batsmen to do so.
While the Indian bowlers could hold the key to the ultimate outcome it is pertinent to note that the Indian batting is strong though one wonders what else Sarfaraz Khan has to do to be picked in the squad. He is the prime example of the embarrassment of riches Indian cricket has today and based on their wonderful home record it is fair to say that India has the edge over the Aussies.