<
>

Will Australia be bringing out their dead in India?

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.

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."