February 16, 2017

Welcome to the cauldron, Australia

Touring India can be tough and intimidating; Smith's team must get a number of things right
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Just lost a wicket? The din of the crowd won't let you forget © BCCI

India. The mere mention of that one word conjures up vivid sights, sounds and smells for any cricketer lucky enough to have played the game there. Playing India on their home turf can be an outright intimidating experience, never more so than when you walk out to bat and start your innings.

The crowd are noisy, still celebrating the fall of the previous wicket or two (or three!). The close-in fielders are almost on top of you, ready to pounce on the slightest misjudgement of line, length or pace. The bowler is eyeing you like a hunter stalking vulnerable prey. And the pitch itself is another character in the drama, all red clay, dead grass (if any at all), cracks and footmarks.

In those early minutes, taking guard and facing your first few deliveries, the experience can be quite claustrophobic. You can wonder where your first run is going to come from, and it is all too easy to jump at shadows regarding what is confronting you in terms of the bowling and the pitch. Just because one ball just bit and spun sharply past your bat doesn't mean the next one will - India's spin bowlers have been working with this sort of variation for years and know exactly how to exploit it.

I'm not surprised that few observers are giving Australia a chance, but that should serve as a motivator. A win on this tour would be up there with anything the Australian Test team has achieved in a long time

This isn't to say that spin is the only obstacle a visiting batsman will face. In recent years reverse swing has played a prominent role for India at home. The SG ball has been used expertly to get it swerving while still presenting a hard and prominent seam. I was caught in the middle of one such spell from Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma in Mohali in 2008 and it was no fun.

For all that, batting in India can be extremely rewarding, provided you get past that difficult first half-hour or so. The outfields are fast and not particularly big, meaning plenty of boundaries are on offer. The heat and humidity is sapping for all concerned, but there is no doubt it ultimately favours the fit and fighting batsman over the tiring bowler, fielder or wicketkeeper.

Critical to survival and, ultimately, success in India is to trust your technique and not to jump at the aforementioned shadows. Yes, you need to adjust the way you play the game, some players more dramatically than others. But most of that process needs to take place before you step onto the field, in discussions with team-mates and coaches, in net practice, and also in warm-up matches - an increasingly rare commodity. Thinking you have the wrong method for the conditions, or trying to change it in the very act of facing, bowling or catching the ball, is invariably going to lead to hesitation and error.

Mitchell Starc's ability to mop up the tail quickly will be vital © Getty Images

Hopefully Steven Smith's Australian touring team have all this in mind as they confront an Indian side unbeaten for six successive home series. I'm not surprised that few observers are giving Australia a chance, but that should serve as a motivator. A win on this tour would be up there with anything the Australian Test team has achieved in a long time, something to rank with winning the Ashes in England in 1989, or the "final frontier" win in India in 2004. That series was, of course, the end of a long road for an Australian side that had won more or less everything else under the sun. This time around Steven is trying to forge a new era for the Test side, after a rollercoaster home summer.

As you will see in the team I have nominated for the first Test, I would like to see Matt Renshaw retained at the top of the order for Australia, because he has the height, the power and the concentration to succeed in India. He can also offer a pronounced height difference to David Warner, a useful advantage in an opening pair, which can help to throw off the lengths of India's bowlers, whether pace or spin.

Similarly, the lack of exposure India's bowlers have had to Peter Handscomb could work in the young Victorian's favour, and I would like to see him at No. 4, behind Steven, who should promote himself to first drop. That top four will need to shoulder most of the responsibility for batting at least 150 overs in each first innings. Anything less will be inadequate.

The close-in fielders are almost on top of you, ready to pounce on the slightest misjudgement of line, length or pace. The bowler is eyeing you like a hunter stalking vulnerable prey. And the pitch itself is another character in the drama

Shaun Marsh would be a neat choice next in the order, helping continue a mixture of right- and left-hand batsmen, and also putting him close together in the order with his brother Mitchell, who I expect to be given a chance as the third seamer and a middle-order batting option.

After Matthew Wade, the wicketkeeper, at No. 7, Steve O'Keefe and Mitchell Starc offer the possibility of lower-order runs, ahead of Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood.

Australia's attack have their work cut out against Virat Kohli and company, but I do think they have the sorts of attributes that can succeed. O'Keefe's ability to consistently attack the stumps and offer variation between skid and spin will be more than useful, as we saw in his brief Sri Lanka stint before injury, while Starc and Hazlewood are both accomplished at reversing the ball and will need to do so frequently.

Starc's ability to blow away a tail is another vital element of Australia's campaign, and one that has the potential to change the series in a big way. Recent Australia tours to India have been notable for lower-order partnerships by the hosts that have proven extremely damaging: Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer helped India wriggle out of a tight spot in Bangalore in 2008, costing us our best chance of winning a Test that series; VVS Laxman guided India's tail to a one-wicket win in Mohali in 2010; MS Dhoni's epic double-hundred in Chennai in 2013 was made largely in the company of the bowlers.

Last but by no means least, Australia are going to have to field like demons. I can see the bowlers creating 20 chances a Test - in other words, enough to win. But dropped catches and missed run-outs would be extremely damaging, because India will make the most of any opportunities missed. So too will the crowds I mentioned before, and nothing can make the sun beat down harder on the heads of the fielding side than a chance going down.

Former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin played 66 Tests for Australia

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sapjob7026530 on February 23, 2017, 3:49 GMT

    It won't be an easy series for both the teams. AUS is not like NZ or ENG. They will fight hard and are a good fielding team to create chances out of nowhere. Give them half a chance they would grab it. I can see at least 2 innings where Indian top order would fail. But with the depth in the batting might survive. It won't be a 4-0 wash I think. Maybe 2-1 India. Let's see how it pans out. Rather than wanting a specific type of pitch, just wait and watch and let them play out whatever is being offered. Either way, it's going to be a good series. Just relax and enjoy good cricket rather than criticizing the teams.

  • sapjob7026530 on February 23, 2017, 3:06 GMT

    @ULHAS ON FEBRUARY 16, 2017, 13:57 GMT "Advise to Steve Smith - Win the Toss and start batting."

    Funny comment. In the last India Tour, AUS won the Toss and batted first on all 4 tests and yet lost all 4 tests. Could you suggest anything different?

  • Heramb on February 18, 2017, 16:57 GMT

    Looking forward to an Indian Test series win 2-1 or 3-1 but as the scoreline suggests expecting Australia to win 1 Test out of 4 probably in Bangalore,where the Aussies won in 2004 en route to a 2-1 Test series win in India, or in Dharamsala,where the Aussie pacers can be expected to thrive as opposed to India's inconsistent pace attack if Shami is unfit.3 of the 4 venues for this Test series are hosting their 1st ever Tests and would bring in a novelty factor that would make it a tad difficult to predict the match result.Australia would do well to field 3 genuine pacers+2 spinners but certainly none of the Marsh brothers.India opted for 3 seamers+2 spinners combination against Bangladesh knowing the Hyderabad pitch & the visitors' relative comfort against spin bowling being a sub continental team.Instead India should opt for Jayant or Kuldeep in fielding 3 spinners with Umesh & Ishant as pacers in the 1st 2 Tests & Shami coming in for the final 2 Tests,if fit.All the best Team India.

  • Ramana on February 18, 2017, 13:26 GMT

    The usual hype has started....but Haddins comments are more pertinent. Hope Aus dont get too sunk into the "dust bowl pitches" syndrome. If India prepare the same kind of pitches as for the NZ-ENG-BD series, it wl be a very even contest. I really dont think Aus wl be blown away 0-4. India have most bases covered : batting, bowling (fast and spin), wicket-keeping. Fielding can be better, esp slip catching. Aus batting is not bad- only 2 to 3 batsmen need to score big in an innings. Bowling - Starc & co. can be effective (as Starc showed in SL). Fielding has always been top notch (even Aus slip catching can improve- Smith & co. dropped a fair few in Pak series). Wicket-keeper batsman not great and spin bowlers unproven in India conditions. So all in all, India shud still win but it wl be tough fight - cud be a really memorable series.

  • laksvi5642713 on February 18, 2017, 9:55 GMT

    @ AUSSIENSW ON FEBRUARY 17, 2017, 22:45 GMT - i echo your thoughts entirely and am indian...wishing for pitches with even bounce that helps all types of bowlers and batsmen....

  • laksvi5642713 on February 18, 2017, 9:42 GMT

    never liked the bloke but he is an awesome writer......and some fantastic points and observations by haddin..... @ NTALGERI ON FEBRUARY 17, 2017, 10:36 GMT - yeah - good comments, tiresome the whole 'dustbowl' 'doctored' tired stereotyping of our pitches, when those commenting didnt spare the time and effort to view and analyse the 9 test pitches against nz, eng, and BD , leave alone the 10 odd pitches used for the odi's and the t20's, might come as a bit of a shock to certain serial'lets bag one country for all thats wrong in world cricket' but the pitches were with 'even bounce' - if it turned from day one - the bounce was even, hence you need skill to survive, score and flourish-if you didnt - sorry-you r not quite the real deal.....'even bounce' - wish the usuals would remember those two words, hoping to see even bounce in this series, super excited to have aus in our backyard, can we the humble blogger discuss in good spirits without downing others please? cricinfo plz publish

  • Hamish on February 18, 2017, 3:14 GMT

    @popcorn Shawn Marsh averages 78 in Sri Lanka, since his recall to the test team in 2014 he's played 12 matches and averages 46.57 with 3 100s and 4 50s. That's despite a couple of times being dropped within 2 matches of him making 100s...

  • Wayne on February 17, 2017, 22:45 GMT

    Come on BCCI. Prepare fair even pitches like the ones presented to India when they tour Australia to reduce the highly over rated averages of the Indian spinners boosted by the low bouncing and ridiculously turning Indian dust bowls. Let the whole Australian media, players and fans cry out in celebration that we really can produce fair and even wickets with a bit in it for everyone and interesting cricket if we try for a change. It will be fun. Brisbane and Adelaide kind of pitches please!!!

  • Vaughan on February 17, 2017, 13:27 GMT

    Good luck Aussies...... Whole SA is rooting for you guys.. Thrash'em

  • Nikhil on February 17, 2017, 10:36 GMT

    Let the "dustbowl trolling" begin. Playing spin is an art, there is nothing unfair about a turning pitch versus a bouncy pitch versus a swinging greentop. These are all different conditions. Class players embrace them, ordinary ones moan..

    About the 11 mentioned by Haddin , Khawaja needs to be in the team, maybe even as a #3. "the lack of exposure India's bowlers have had to Peter Handscomb " is hardly a disadvantage for India - they'll be licking their lips to bowl at anyone who's new to international cricket and never toured India before.

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