February 5, 2017

Will Australia be bringing out their dead in India?

Playing spin well requires decisive footwork and must be learnt young; Australia's intensive last-minute preparation may be of limited use

While batsmen are often reluctant to come down the track to spin, they attempt premeditated shots without a second thought © Getty Images

England have been banished and the next victim in India's sights is Australia. It has reached the point where even someone as positive as ex-captain Ricky Ponting says, "As long as they can find a way to be really competitive through the Test series, I don't think it will be that big a deal if Australia lose."

Australia's tour of India is looming as a repeat of that macabre scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Bring out your dead."

Is it really that hard playing in India?

Well, it is if you go by the records. Amazingly, India have lost only one of their last 20 series at home, to England in 2012-13. Before that, it was against Australia in 2004-05 that India felt the sting of defeat at home.

There is an obsession with sweeping, which in all but rare cases is not the way to dominate good spinners who are well captained

What makes this feat even more remarkable is that many overseas players now regularly play in the highly successful IPL tournament. In theory, overseas players should be more comfortable playing in India rather than becoming increasingly estranged. However, it seems that lessons learned playing T20 bear no relationship to performing in the Test arena. It could also be that Indian teams these days are stronger than those of the past.

There is no doubt India have a strong batting line-up, but that has been the case for more than two decades. Since the advent of the IPL, India's fielding (apart from slip catching) and athleticism have improved greatly.

However, spin bowling, which has been the chief reason behind the demise of visiting teams, is another matter. From the late '60s into the mid-'70s, India were extremely well served by Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, a trio of wily, highly competitive spinners. Nevertheless, when the 1969-70 Australian team toured, I felt we could win in India. This was based on having a batting line-up that was adept at playing spin, in addition to a fine pace bowler in Graham McKenzie and an extremely good offspinner in Ashley Mallett.

If Australia's batsmen are confused about how to play Ashwin and Co, they will be ripe for the taking © BCCI

I believed we could accumulate 300 runs in the first innings under most conditions and that would keep us competitive. We achieved that target in all but one Test (which we won), as the Madras pitch was a difficult one.

Those Australian players toured India after a winter working at their respective jobs, two weeks in Ceylon and one warm-up match, against West Zone. I didn't plan to change my style of batting in India but I did make some minor adjustments during the series.

Contrast that build-up with the preparation planned for the current Australian side. It includes some players practising on specially prepared pitches in Brisbane, with English spinner Monty Panesar joining the sessions, a spin-oriented training camp in Dubai, and consultant coach Sridharan Sriram advising on how to play in India.

All these well-intentioned endeavours may help a little, but in some cases they could hinder. Learning to play spin bowling efficiently starts at a young age, and for someone who is a little unsure, a concentrated stint on turning pitches could lead to confusion. At the very least, it might result in a player formulating a plan that he discovers doesn't work under match conditions and he is then left floundering.

Australia's tour of India is looming as a repeat of that macabre scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Bring out your dead"

One thing that intrigues me about the modern concept of playing spin bowling is risk assessment. In many cases, leaving the crease is not seen as an option, but premeditated shots, which present far more risk, are attempted without a second thought.

There is an obsession with sweeping, which in all but rare cases is not the way to dominate good spinners who are well captained. Combating good spinners is about learning the lesson of quick, decisive footwork at a young age, rather than cramming for a difficult exam at the last minute.

If the Australian batsmen are in the pavilion, unsure or confused about how to play R Ashwin and company, the crowd noise will have a ring to it that sounds a lot like that dreaded cry, "Bring out your dead."

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricinfouser on February 21, 2017, 6:00 GMT

    @MIKEPATT: I'm still not convinced you are an Australian. Anyway, if you have actually watched the test series of 2004-05 in India, you would know that the victory was nothing but easy. That team had great batsmen like Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, Clark, Lehmann, Gilchrist, and legendary bowlers in McGrath n Warne and a wily support cast in Gillespie n Kasprowicz and they executed their run-chocking plans to perfection with some great fielding. Such was the might of that side that Brett Lee didn't even manage to play a test. Yet they needed some luck to win that series. India dropped a few catches in the first test in Bangalore, but they still would have managed to draw the test if not for some umpiring mistakes. India dominated the next test in Chennai and would have won it if the final day wasn't washed off. The third test in Nagpur was controversial with Sourav Ganguly withdrawing from the match after the pitch inspection. A green seamer was prepared (owing to some petty BCCI internal politics and I remember the curator saying he wanted Indian batters "to learn to play Brett Lee on fast tracks")! The ball seamed around for the length of the day on all 4 days and Australia won comfortably with McGrath's (who never was a great mover of the ball) out swingers darting around like leg breaks and 4 slips waiting in anticipation all day. The last test in Mumbai was also controversial cause the curator overcompensated for the Nagpur debacle and dished out a dust bowl and the match ended in 3 days. None of us were proud of that victory. I'm not making excuses for that loss, but just putting things into perspective and point out the enormity of the task ahead for this young Australian team.

  •   Cricinfouser on February 15, 2017, 12:48 GMT

    A good article and well written. I tend to disagree a little though with Mr Chappell on the issue of sweeping spinners in India. Reverse sweep, yes, not a good idea in test cricket. Conventional sweeping earned Andy Flower, playing for Zimbabwe, many runs in a series in India and helped him dominate the home spinners.

  •   cricfan13618378 on February 15, 2017, 12:33 GMT

    Amazingly written.. hats off..!

  • Ken on February 10, 2017, 11:25 GMT

    There's no doubt of two things. One, pitches everywhere these days are doctored to favour the home team. And two, even if this wasn't so the current Indian team is a particularly strong one. So I think the Aussies will do very well if they manage to win any Test at all this series - there best chance is to make sure they win the coin toss.

    In fact my biggest objection to dustbowls of pitches is that they make the toss matter too much, I think Darren Lehmann's suggestion to get rid of it and let the touring team decide whether to bat or bowl is a great one - it will stop home town curators preparing dustbowls and greentops alike.

  • Anil on February 7, 2017, 14:55 GMT

    DOOSRA-SHERU: How many "spinning dust bowls" did you see during the recent eight Tests against NZ and ENG? Did you not know that three new venues will host the AUS Tests, including the cool, hilly (and thus pace-friendly) Dharmashala?Frankly, this nonsensical insinuation MUST stop. India is generous that nice, friendly pitches were rolled out to the visitors (who still lost). If NZ, SAf, AUS, ENG have the right to roll out pacy, bouncy pitches, IND/SL have as much right to prepare dust bowls. Not seeing the reality is one thing, one cannot blame the blind; but presenting distorted versions of reality is deplorable.

  • Chitrabhanu on February 7, 2017, 14:29 GMT

    I will hold my judgement on PH. He has an unorthodox technique of holding back in the crease. So I presume Ashwin is going to keep the cover regions open for him to drive through there. And Jadeja would like to pin him down back in the crease. Over after over, he has to alter between 2 contrasting lengths. Let's see how he does that. Not slighting him , just being a bit cautious

  • Speak on February 7, 2017, 9:55 GMT

    WHOA........It is not so much the quality of the spin bowling that is beating the visiting teams to that part of the world but the spinning dust bowls that are prepared so that from ball one day one one batsmen are confronted with balls spinning and breaking square. This is what causes the confusion. What happens when these so called top spinbowlers play overseas.? They struggle of course. The only way to fight this is to send genuinely quick agressive bowlers who bowl over 90 mph as the local batsmen fear real quick bowling. West Indies were successful in doing that in a past era.

  • gurinder on February 7, 2017, 9:01 GMT

    chappel is right. expecting aus winning in india is like wishing for snow in india in may.better teams than this raw aus test side were beaten badly or sufferered whitewashes at the hands of india in past few years. nz , england , sa , even aus in 2013 were badly defeated in india. expecting nothing less than 4-0 whitewash in upcoming tour.

  • chris on February 7, 2017, 8:31 GMT

    If Aus should happen to win the first test you can bet your bottom dollar the next few pitches they play on will be dust bowls of note.

  • Steven on February 7, 2017, 8:01 GMT

    I think this will be agreat series it will be competitive if Aussie use there brains and not try to slog the spinners or get tied down by the spinners I keep saying strike rotation is the key and finding away to get to the non strikers end prob mix it up sweep abit get Ford n back and come down the track on occasions to find gaps in the field for singles the singles u can get the more likely u r to take the pressure off urself and put it back on the bowlers and therefore there's more chance of getting more bad balls to put away eventually and then the bowlers become under the pump and the threats won't be as great when that happens

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