India captain Virat Kohli dives to catch the ball during a practice session in Pune on wednesday. REUTERS Their batsmen, bowlers have struggled on turning tracks23 Feb 2017 | 2:21 AM
PUNE: On Tuesday, Anil Kumble termed Australia “just like any other team”.[ + read story ]
Tribune News Service
Pune, February 22
On Tuesday, Anil Kumble termed Australia “just like any other team”. Today, on the eve of the first Test of the four-match series, Virat Kohli went a step further and ranked Australia a rung lower than England as opponents.
Well, the Indian skipper didn’t say this in as many words but he dropped enough hints even as, ironically, he explained how his team treats all oppositions as equal. At one point, he said: “We thought England were a top quality side with a lot more experience than what Australia have right now.” (The England side had a collective experience of 100 Tests in Asia compared to Australia’s 56). At another point, he said: “England was a very tough series... We come into this series much more confident and much more sure about us as a squad and what we want to do.”
So, is the Indian skipper taking the Australians lightly? No, he isn’t, but he’s definitely viewing them as a slightly lesser opponent than England, whom India thrashed 4-0. And Australia, with their deplorable record in Asia since around 2012, can rightfully be considered inferior to England. Consider this: Australia have lost nine consecutive Tests in Asia, including a 4-0 thrashing in India in 2013 and a 3-0 hammering at the hands of a largely young and inexperienced Sri Lanka last year.
If the numbers of the current lot against spin are anything to go by, then Steve Smith’s team appears headed for another hammering. Smith and David Warner, the two batsmen on whose performance Australia’s fortunes largely hinge, average close to 60 at home, but their numbers drop to 38 and 32.7 in Asia. Nathan Lyon, their lead spinner who will need to be absolutely amazing if Australia are to even compete, has a pretty ordinary record in Asia. His average away from home, excluding Asia, is 28 but it shoots up to 44.42 in Asia. Just to put his numbers in perspective, R Ashwin averages 22.11 in India!
Trial by spin
So spin is a sort of double whammy for Australia — their best batsmen are way short of their best against it, and their spinners just can’t spin it enough. Against an opponent so spin-scarred, the tactical wisdom would demand that India serve them loads of spin. And that’s what they are going to get — Kohli made it almost clear that, with the onset of the early pre-summer heat, the wickets are going to play slow and low, and crack too.
“This time of the year when the summer comes in, the wicket tends to get slower and lower. That’s what we expect from this wicket as well,” said the Indian skipper. “We expect it to turn from Day 2, Day 3. During summers, it gets very hot and dry and it’s very difficult to keep the wicket together.”
Smith though, had a very different opinion — “I think it will take spin from ball one,” he said.
Australia, of course, have arguably the world’s best new ball pair in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, but it’s pretty clear that they won’t be half as effective on the tracks that won’t offer them bounce and carry. Australia are hoping that the two inflict pain on the hosts with reverse swing. Even if they manage to get the reverse swing going, the lion’s share of the responsibility of picking the wickets will fall on the spinners. Unfortunately for Australia, the Indian batsmen are definitely not losing any sleep over the prospect of facing them!
Smith, quite unlike the battle-hardened Australians of the past, readily admitted they were the underdogs in the contest. And much of what he said was just about the series being very tough, about them wanting to compete as hard as possible, and taking their chances.
It’s indeed going to be absolutely tough for the Aussies. The hosts are on a roll and Smith’s men seem unlikely to stop the Indian juggernaut.