Indians will be determined to erase the embarrassment of losing to England last year, writes Greg Chappell
Playing Test cricket in India is a war of attrition. It is challenging for even the most experienced team. The Australian team, in which only Clarke, Watson, Siddle and Johnson have had experience of playing Test cricket in India, will be sorely tested.
On slow, low-bouncing wickets scoring quickly is often difficult. In this environment, not beating yourself by playing badly is one of the critical factors. The team that does the basics well and does not panic in times of stress will be the one to beat.
Taking all of your catches, batting and bowling in partnerships and batsmen who get a start going on to make big scores are the critical components of succeeding in Test cricket.
When you consider that 60 per cent of batsmen in any given Test don’t get to 20, those who do, must make the most of it; this is particularly so when the going is tough. Coming in to bat with close-in fielders around the bat, on a turning pitch, will test even the most experienced player.
Tests in India can seem to be going nowhere for the first three days and then things quickly speed up on the last two days as the pitch deteriorates and nerves fray, taking what appears to be a certain draw to a swift conclusion that can surprise the unwary.
Recognising key moments in a Test and taking advantage of them is essential if a team is to succeed on the sub-continent. Batting well against the new ball is one of the more important roles as is the ability to bat for long periods against spin when the ball gets softer and the wicket loses pace.
Another of the critical factors is to not to leak runs when bowling and wickets are not falling. In closely fought matches, one session or even one spell can make the difference.
Pressuring the new batsman with attacking fields without giving away easy runs is a must for getting started, as the stats tell us, is the hardest part of batting.
Having bowlers who can reverse the wearing ball, for it won’t stay shiny and hard for long on abrasive pitches, is another non-negotiable.
With this in mind, team selection will be the first challenge for the tourists.
The opening batting slots will be of major importance. Getting through the new ball is one thing, but, if you do, it is essential to maximise the period when the ball is hard by scoring quickly. This is the role that Sehwag has played to perfection for India in the past.
The Australians will be tempted to play two specialist spinners, but that could be a mistake if they are not sure that they can do what Swann and Panesar did, which was to bowl attackingly while keeping it tight. They might be better placed to go with their strength and pick three specialist pacemen, one specialist spinner and rely on the all-rounders to shoulder a fair share of the workload to strengthen the batting and fielding.
Michael Clarke will need as many options at his disposal as possible and, more importantly, no weak links to be exploited by the Indian batting and bowling line-ups.
Batting collapses and bowling malfunctions will be the things that will turn this series, so Australia has to play to its strengths, no matter the conditions.
Indians will be determined to erase the embarrassment of losing to England late last year. They have gone with a mixture of youth and experience.
The youngsters will need to play well, but, as usual, much will be expected of Sehwag, Tendulkar and Harbhajan. If they all have successful series, India will win.
Should Australia curb Sehwag’s prodigious talent and keep Tendulkar under pressure as it did in Australia on the last tour, then it can put pressure on the less experienced batsmen and keep India to totals that can be matched.
Starc will be the key
Sehwag doesn’t like pace and bounce or the ball coming back into him, so Mitchell Starc with his bounce and swing back into the right-handers, will be a key for the Australians. Starc has not had much experience in India so he will need to calibrate his radar quickly to find the right length or he could be reduced in effectiveness by the mercurial opener.
The talk about this series being Tendulkar’s last will persist throughout, but it is a sideshow to the main attraction. Sachin has struck some form in domestic cricket, but too much should not be read into that.
The Australians need to use their pace bowlers in short, explosive spells as much as possible and they need to find the Indian length, which is fuller than in Australia, as quickly as they can.
This will be a hard fought series which is not as open and shut in favour of India as some would have you believe. If Australia gets its best line-up together and gets off to a good start, I would not be surprised to see an upset.