India, prepped and ready for Australia
With mind games and street-smart planning in place, India are ready as ever to take on Australia.
Australia has embarked on what should be a long and tough tour of India. Given their on-field aggression and the history between the two sides, the series promises to be an exciting one.
Australia can be very dangerous when the chips are down and India will surely be wary of them. Most members of this touring party play in the IPL and are more than familiar with the grounds and conditions on offer here. So far, Smith and company have trained rigorously in Dubai and then at the Brabourne Stadium to tune up for Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The Australians are also known for their ‘lip service’. Their skipper Steve Smith has made it clear after landing in India that he would not stop his team-mates from sledging the hosts if it gets the best out of his side. Sledging though, is part and parcel of the game and players have hurled taunts at each other for years. But when it gets down to being personal and abusive, it adds a bad taste to the so-called “Gentleman’s game”. In the interest of the game, team’s must draw a line which should never be crossed.
India’s game plan
Now it’s up for the Indian think tank to chalk out a strategy against Australia. In Test cricket, plans are made based on the weakness of the opposition. As far as Australia is concerned, their major worry will be spin and turning tracks. They would have desperately wanted to play quality spin in their solitary practice match. Alas, with no quality spinner in the India-A squad, they must have been dejected.
Did India deliberately starve the Aussies of quality spin before the start of the Test matches? Kuldeep Yadav was originally slated to play the tour match but was pulled away. The selectors obviously realise that the youngster could be India’s surprise weapon at some stage in the series. This is one strategy that has always been used when we used to travel to Australia and other countries.
It reminds me of overseas tours that I was part of. When our tours to Australia started, we were handed absolutely flat wickets in practice games. When the Tests began, a different story unfolded. While it could be termed a tad bit unethical, you cannot deny that it’s street-smart planning.
Now India’s team management will be working out the combination of the team as well as the tracks. I am a firm believer of offering Australia turning tracks and fielding in three spinners in R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav or Kuldeep Yadav. This would mean that the hosts would have to sacrifice a fast bowler or two.
An all-rounder for good measure
India’s current fast-bowling unit is perhaps the most healthy in recent times. The selectors’ approach of grooming Hardik Pandya is a good one as well. While Pandya has his fair share of critics who don’t approve the support he’s been handed, I back the selectors’ move. If a bowler can bowl at speeds of 140 km/h, he should certainly be given a chance in Test cricket. And the fact that Pandy can bat, is an added advantage and for this reason, investing in him is wise.
Also, there is a need to groom a seam bowling all-rounder for the future and particularly when India plays on turning tracks. Under such circumstances, fast bowlers have hardly been used and the vast majority of bowling is done by spinners. With Umesh at his best, India can play Hardik Pandya as an all-rounder. By doing so, the batting strength is bound to improve.
So far, Virat Kohli has selected his squad to suit the conditions and the opposition, rather than drawing upon past performances. A great example of this is the sidelining of Karun Nayar in the previous Test against Bangladesh despite his triple century against England. This procedure of Kohli’s team selection keeps all the players on their toes.
The hosts will be wary of Mitchell Starc and Australia’s two spinners in Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe. Lyon bowls faster through the air and such bowlers are always difficult to play on a turning track.
The battle lines have been drawn and plans are perhaps being finalised at the moment. The war of words however, will continue but come February 23, actions will speak louder than words.