A tension-filled loss in the first T20I confirmed for India the first rule of touring Australia: never underestimate the opposition.
No matter how depleted the Australian squad might be or how much chaos surrounds the national team, the players will give their all on the field. Many sides touring Australia have failed to observe the rule that should be etched on their boarding pass: try to win every game, especially those leading up to the first Test.
The last touring side that obeyed that principle was Andrew Strauss’ England side in 2010-11. Their enterprise in the warm-up matches was an influencing factor in an eventual 3-1 Test series victory.
India need to be vigilant when facing an inexperienced Cricket Australia XI in Sydney. They should be in no doubt that their opponents will be out to win. In the early 1990s touring teams were regularly ambushed by talented sides from the Cricket Academy, which included players like Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath, and it proved to be a confidence deflator.
In their lone tour game India will have to acclimate quickly to the extra bounce from Australian pitches. The hardest adjustment for any batsman is going from low-bouncing pitches to ones where the ball rises at a steeper trajectory. This leads to one of the biggest challenges when batting in Australia: how to score runs off the back foot. Consequently, players who are adept at playing the horizontal bat shots often have success in Australian conditions.
With Australia looking to temper their on-field behaviour after the ball-tampering debacle, the Indians had better believe that while this may result in a reduction in verbals, there will be no let-up on the short-pitched deliveries.
“. In England the Indian fast bowlers had great success with a fuller length. That will work in Australia while there’s some movement, but when that disappears, the trick is to find a length that will still create opportunities”
Australia should not be underestimated: they have a top-class attack, headed by three excellent fast bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Patrick Cummins. As a result of three suspensions, Australia will field a depleted batting line-up, which means their bowlers will be even more determined to limit the opposition’s scoring.
Therefore the Indian top three should be aware that the Australian pacemen will be seeking early wickets in order to get the redoubtable Virat Kohli in while the ball is still shiny. This leads to a selection conundrum. Do India bat the dogged Cheteshwar Pujara at three and hope he’ll wear the quick bowlers down, or do they gamble on Rohit Sharma, who is technically well equipped to tackle the short-pitched stuff aggressively? Kohli showed on the last tour of Australia that he’s extremely adept at dealing with short-pitched deliveries, but it would be of great benefit to provide him with an ally in this confrontation.
India’s other selection conundrum is what to do with their spinners. Considering Australia’s frailty against spin bowling, there’s no doubt that in Adelaide and Sydney especially, India would love to play a pair of tweakers. They would probably also like one of them to be the wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav, but his choice is made more difficult by the absence of seam-bowling allrounder Hardik Pandya. The solutions to these head scratchers may become clearer after the warm-up match, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of trying to win the contest.
The other objective to be finalised is the right length for the faster bowlers to claim victims in Australia. In England the Indian fast bowlers had great success bowling on a fuller length to take advantage of the swing and seam on offer. That will work in Australia while there’s some movement through the air or off the pitch, but when that disappears, the trick is to find a length that will still create opportunities.
That’s a lot to be achieved in one warm-up game, and hence the failure of most touring sides to upset their hosts. Nevertheless the best way for India to enter the first Test full of confidence is to do so on the back of a convincing warm-up win.