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October 12, 2013
Australia's solitary Test series victory in India since 1969-70 is one of the more humbling statistics in the record of the world's 'winningest' cricket country. The series ledgers alone - 2-0, 0-0, 1-0, 2-1, 2-1, 1-2, 2-0, 4-0 - tell a tale of ignorance, difficulty in adjusting, and lessons often learned too late in a tour, then invariably forgotten in time for the start of the next one. Those results would suggest that there is no more difficult place on earth for an Australian cricket team to prosper, not least in the years after the greats began to retire in 2007.
Yet the Antipodean ODI tale on the subcontinent is more about triumph than humiliation. Starting with a 1987 World Cup victory that marked the official start of Australian cricket's regeneration under Allan Border and Bob Simpson, the 50-over format has brought something near to consistently strong results in India. Since 1998, when regular international series contact between the two countries was resumed after a mid-1990s freeze-out phase, Australian teams have emerged triumphant in five out of the six limited-overs series contested there, whether they be triangular tournaments as in 1998 and 2003, or bilateral visits on other occasions.
They also won the 2006 Champions Trophy and reached the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup. In 2009, Ricky Ponting's team managed to claw to a 4-2 victory despite having a full XI first-choice players absent injured.
These series victories have come in a range of circumstances, whether after a Test series or standing alone. The only time Australia have not won a limited-overs contest against India in recent times is 2010, when the one match of three not to be washed out resulted in a home victory at Vizag after a high-scoring chase. But otherwise, the tourists have found themselves excelling away from home at a vast assortment of venues, from Bangalore in the south and Mumbai on the west coast, to Mohali in the north and even Guwahati on the distant eastern fringes. A multitude of factors can be pointed to by way of explanation, but here are a few of the most salient.
A history of success
Confidence in the knowledge that those before you have achieved great things in India has helped Australia's ODI teams ever since Border lifted the Reliance Cup aloft at Eden Gardens 26 years ago. The doubts, phobias and conspiracy theories that cloud the mind of an Australian Test cricketer on the subcontinent tend to fall away for one-day matches, while the roars of Indian crowds feel less claustrophobic and distracting for the knowledge that they have not stopped the visitors before. Individuals, too, have benefited from strong records there. Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting have all fared better in ODIs than Tests, while the likes of the tweakers Nathan Hauritz and Brad Hogg have held their own in coloured clothing despite being swatted away in the five-day game.
More familiar pitches
Australia's stand-in captain, George Bailey, believed this to be one of the most critical factors in the team's greater level of comfort relative to Tests. Where five-day wickets are commonly worn, spitting and spinning, Indian groundsmen prepare their most even-tempered surfaces for limited-overs contests, sometimes allowing grass to hold them together and so granting fast bowlers a little more assistance. Add this to the swing that can be occasionally generated in early starts and the picture becomes far more familiar to Australian players. Damien Fleming, Nathan Bracken, Doug Bollinger and Johnson all profited from early morning seam and swing at various times, while Shaun Marsh, Cameron White, Michael Hussey, Ponting and Watson have played freely without worrying too much about the ground beneath their feet.
Less reliance on spin
Another notable quality to Indian ODI surfaces is the fact that they seldom require the selection of a team brimful with quality spinners. Australia's preferred reliance on fast men with the odd slow bowler for variety has worked effectively, with Shane Warne, Hauritz and Hogg playing fair supporting roles. It is arguable the ability of the pacemen to make headway in 50-over matches on the subcontinent has at times lulled the national selectors into thinking that the same might occur in Test matches, but the differences in pitch preparation have generally conspired against the success of such a tactic.
A lower key
It cannot help a team to view anywhere as the final frontier, even if the 2004 tourists managed to accomplish a Test series win while embracing the idea of India as their last mountain. The pressure Australian Test players feel in India, both in the middle of the ground and from the edges, has inhibited their performances at times, timid strokes and indifferent bowling spells reflecting the sense that the world is closing in around them. By contrast, that feeling tends to be on the other side during ODI series. No nation loves the one-day game more than India, and the expectations upon the home team for ODI tournaments that mean little in the wider scheme have allowed an unfancied Australia to sneak up on them more than once. The 2011 World Cup quarter-final in Ahmedabad is a notable exception.
Ricky Ponting's captaincy
Three ODI series in India for three victories is one of many garlands Ponting gained over a storied career, though as he has noted it will be one of many obscured by the loss of three Ashes series. Nonetheless, his calm leadership, sparkling but sturdy batting and peerless example in the field contributed greatly to a legacy of limited-overs confidence on Indian shores. In this, Ponting shares something in common with Border. Both men provided a solid core around which transitional teams swirled and bubbled, while they showcased a greater tactical alacrity in 50-over matches that occasionally eluded them in Tests. His binding together of the injury-strewn 2009 tour party was something few on the tour will forget. Before departing, Bailey consulted Ponting about how best to tackle the current series. There was no better man to ask.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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