India v Australia, 3rd Test, Nagpur, 4th day

The reward of painstaking preparation

Peter English attributes Australia's success in India to their meticulous planning

Australian View by Peter English

October 29, 2004

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Shane Warne played the perfect supporting act to the fast bowlers © AFP

Thirty-five years of struggle was not meant to end so easily. Conquering the final frontier was supposed to finish with a duel similar to the one Australia fought in 2001, and Ricky Ponting's sweaty hands raising the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Instead, the conquest was over in three Tests as India let down the drawbridge before Ponting could try his first sweep.

Moses led his people through the desert wilderness for 40 years before arriving in Canaan. Adam Gilchrist, the stand-in captain, has achieved what Hughes, Border, Taylor and Waugh - four times - could not, by leading Australia to the promised land. The journey began when Bill Lawry departed Madras with a 3-1 victory on December 28, 1969. Of the current Australian side only Shane Warne was alive, but he was a baby months away from his first mouthful of baked beans.

While Moses had his Ten Commandments, Australia's definitive plan didn't come until the heartbreak of 2001, when Steve Waugh turned up to celebrate with his Southern Comfort and instead drank in unfulfilled destiny. Desperate to avoid further heartbreak, the players and the support staff filled laptops with tactical and trivial plans over months and years. No team has ever been better prepared.

There's been an executive summary for everything and everyone. They've had a yoga instructor, detailed instructions for the hotel chefs, and have sipped drinks during games instead of gulping them like their predecessors. In mid-tour everybody went on holiday. These were small moves with big results.

On the field they would be more patient. Under Gilchrist Australia have been willing to go on the defensive in a way Waugh never allowed. Shane Warne, now the world's highest wicket-taker, would be a stock bowler. The pace attack would be the hit-men, bowling straight, sharing their reverse-swing secrets and having more protection on the leg side. Singles would be given to batsmen addicted to boundaries.

Importantly, they've been flexible enough to adapt. Michael Clarke wasn't supposed to bat, but performed better than everyone except Damien Martyn by playing with a joie de vivre not seen since the young Michael Slater. Gilchrist took charge so seamlessly that Ponting, recovering from a broken thumb, was not missed. And after avoiding the sweep in the first innings at Bangalore, the batsmen began to play that shot in an effort to rotate the strike. The outcomes have been spectacular.

India have four of the world's most intimidating batsmen, and two of the most feared spinners. Yet they have been humiliated. Gilchrist continued the torture today by extending the lead well beyond 500. He had declared early at Headingley when filling in for Waugh in 2001, and was 'Butchered'. There was no way he was risking such a prize on anything remotely close to a sporting declaration.

What followed was the Indian top order's softest collapse of the series. Aakash Chopra and Rahul Dravid were bowled in ways that would upset club batsmen, and Jason Gillespie finished with four wickets. Sachin Tendulkar became Glenn McGrath's 450th victim with a timid shot from a great man, and the game was up. The fielders' smiles widened and they waited for the winning moment. John Buchanan held his camcorder, Ponting chewed his fingers like Mark Taylor, and the final pair's boundaries were laughed off.

But this was serious. When Martyn caught Zaheer Khan in the deep off Warne the team exploded. Gilchrist, flapping like a swan chased by a fox, was overwhelmed, but managed to call the moment "the most fulfilling of my cricketing life". Allan Border, now a selector, was in the stands to cheer, and greetings were quickly sent back to Steve Waugh.

This was the Australian equivalent of England winning the rugby World Cup, and the trophy they had won only at home in 1999 will be returned next week in Mumbai. This result means that the team, the extended family reborn under Border, built into world champions by Taylor, and turned into record-breakers by Waugh, can enjoy the view as cricket's greatest travellers. It has taken them 35 years, but they have finally won in India.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.

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