What do Australia have to do to improve their poor away record in England and India?
In an era of "supposedly true to their nature" home pitches and rapidly declining batting technique thanks to a format which isn't essentially cricket, away wins in Test matches have become something of a rarity.
Even the mighty South African side who boasted of the best away record in a decade came crumbling down in India, where only rain prevented them from being on the wrong end of a whitewash. So perhaps it is no surprise that Australia don't exactly have a stellar record in conditions that isn't their own.
Yet, unlike most countries, which seem to just let that be and not do too much about it, the Aussies seem keen on correcting their flaws in the hopes of going back to their all-conquering selves. So, before taking a look at the ways in which they have been going about things, let us first look at their record away from home recently and see why they have taken to whatever they are doing right now.
Australia's away record
Of the major countries that play Tests, the conditions in Australia and South Africa aren't too dissimilar and that is why the Aussies' record there is what it is. Although conditions in New Zealand are difficult, so rarely do they tour their Trans-Tasman rivals that their record is too far apart to draw any sweeping conclusion.
Coming to the two other conditions, which are different, England and India (or even spinning tracks in general). Their record in both countries is nothing short of terrible. They haven't won in India for more than a decade now and the last time with one of their finest squads, including of their greatest bowlers of all-time, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Their record in the Ashes away from home, is even worse. It has been 16 years since they tasted a series win over England on their own turf. Even with an incredibly talented squad that they had in the 2000s, they were unable to breach the English fortress so it was certainly understandable that they want to improve their record in both places.
Recipe for success?
Their terrible record both in India and on turning conditions has prompted Cricket Australia to prepare a track in Queensland which "will turn like Chennai". The pitch is to be used before a tour to the sub-continent so that the spinners are afforded the opportunity to readjust their line and lengths, to suit the turning track.
How have they managed to recreate this surface and where? If reports are to be believed, CA have spent a lot of time to find a specific type of dirt to imitate Indian conditions and at the Center of Excellence in Brisbane, homegrown red clay has been used to replicate the pitch conditions of Indian wickets.
Where has this soil come from, you ask, apparently it has been harvested from a secret location in the region of south-east Queensland.
And that's not the only thing that they have tried to do to improve their away record. Their recently even tried to play with the Dukes ball in order to get better prepared for their trip to England. But that plan failed as the ball didn’t wear enough, according to Australia’s high performance manager Pat Howard, "so we didn't get the value of seeing how the older ball performed.”
So, that essentially meant that the Dukes ball, which is darker, harder and swing more and longer in England ended up acting just like the Kookaburras that they replaced,
What is the real reason for Australia’s away blues?
Will all of this cloak and dagger actually result in an Australian away series victory in either England or the sub-continent. If Steve Waugh is to be believed, it won’t because the problem isn’t with the ball or the pitch but with the batsmen and their poor technique.
“It’s still round and red and the same weight,” Steve Waugh said. “The seam may be a little bit different but it’s not a huge difference. I think if you’re concentrating too much on the ball, you lose sight of the real issue and that’s your technique.”
And the former World Cup-winning Australian captain has hit the nail on the head with his words. While it is true that the surfaces in England and the ball as well, is different, that never stopped them from winning in England before.
So the real reason for the recent away failures can be attributed to the lack of proper technique among their batsmen. Of the current lot, Adam Voges is arguably the most technically correct batsman and even he is coming towards the twilight of his career, even if it only began last year.
Steve Smith, the most successful of the current lot, doesn’t have the right technique to naturally counteract the swinging or reverse swinging ball and that much was evident in last year’s Ashes.
So perhaps Cricket Australia would be better served by actually looking at the players coming through and ensure that they are put through the ringer before they make it to the Australian squad.
And what will help in that regard isn’t pitches that turn like Chennai or balls that are similar to the ones in England but pitches that aren’t flat. The general trend of pitches in Australia recently have been largely in favour of the batsman, which has meant they haven’t had too many challenges before coming through to the national team.
If that changes and there are sporting wickets where there is a fair contest, who knows what might happen next. Revolutionary idea? No, but certainly one that can drastically alter Australia’s chances and improve their batsmen’s techniques.
Perhaps, instead of spending plenty of time and effort secretly harvesting soil, sending youngsters to play in the country’s respective domestic competitions and ensure batsmen having solid technique from a young age might prove to be a better recipe for success than the one that they are currently concocting.