Best chance Down Under

Given the transition phase of Australia consequent to the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, it is now or never for India

By Author N Jagannath Das   |   Published: 23rd Nov 2018   12:16 am Updated: 1st Dec 2018   10:43 pm

Any cricket tour to Australia is full of excitement but is quite often littered with controversies. India had played 11 Test series Down Under since 1947-48 but has never been successful, though the visitors have been victorious in the One Day and Twenty20 formats. A Test series win remains elusive for India. However, given the transition phase that Australia is treading, particularly after the ball-tampering episode in South Africa earlier this year, Virat Kohli and his men have the best chance to emerge triumphant.

Known for playing aggressive cricket, Aussies have never been ‘good hosts’. The ambience is always electric. The crowds are hostile and the players are relentless in their approach to the game. Be it an Ashes or any other series, the Australians have always tried to bully the opposition. In most of the series, they have come out victors.

India had played 11 test series in Australia since 1947-48 but a remains elusive.

Competitive Series
India kicked off yet another competitive series with a T20 game on Nov 21 at Brisbane. The three-month tour includes three T20s, four Tests and three One Day internationals with the last match being played on January 18 at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

There were lots of expectations when India toured England this summer but they flattered to deceive and lost the series 1-4. Lessons learnt, coach Ravi Shastri has promised to rectify their mistakes and come good in this series. It is now or never for the simple reason that the Australia team is facing an identity crisis.

Having lost two of their key players — skipper Steve Smith and attacking opener David Warner to a one-year ban along with opener Cameron Bancroft after the ball-tampering controversy in the Cape Town Test — Cricket Australia has gone in for a culture change in the wake of the cheating scandal that rocked ‘the gentleman’s game’.

The governing body said that it wanted to ensure there was never a repeat of the conduct that happened during the third Test against South Africa in March. Heads rolled. Justin Langer took over from Darren Lehmann hoping to bring sanity. This move evoked mixed reactions and the Australians have not been the same team after the Cape Town Test.

The new ‘sober’ approach towards the game has not brought the desired results. They lost the series against Pakistan and even came a cropper against South Africa in all three formats of the game. Under the circumstances, it is Advantage India to create history Down Under.

No Love Lost
India recorded their first-ever Test win in Australia in the 1977-78 series in Melbourne under Bishen Singh Bedi and won one more in Sydney before losing the series 2-3. In that season, the home team was rocked by the Kerry Packer episode wherein they had to field a second-string team pulling out Bobby Simpson from retirement. Australia always had the stranglehold in the series against India.

Sunil Gavaskar and his men ran the home team close by drawing the series 1-1 in 1981. This tour is best remembered when a furious Gavaskar nearly forced the team to concede the Test match at Sydney on what he thought a bad umpiring decision against him before better sense prevailed.

There is no love lost between the two teams. The most famous was the 2008 Monkeygate scandal, which almost saw the tour called off. Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds alleged that Harbhajan Singh had called him monkey. Indians vehemently denied it. The Aussies believed it to be a racist slur.

Harbhajan was banned for three matches before MV Sridhar, who toured as media manager, tactfully handled the show and there was no ban on Harbhajan. The series continued but skipper Anil Kumble said that only one team was playing with the spirit of the game. Australia won the series amidst continuing verbal jousts.

“They have always been aggressors on the field. They come hard at you. There are exchanges of words and Aussies are masters in this art. They subtly do it. Initially, India never believed in this Australian style of game but soon realised that to play fire with fire, one needs to match their aggression,” says former left-arm spinner SL Venkatapathy Raju.

India learnt it in a hard way. In recent times, the Indians have shown it to Aussies by playing the mind games too. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly even took the battle into the enemy’s camp with aggressive cricket. Sledging is a part of the game. One need not necessarily play the English-type of gentleman’s game and there should be friendly banters to bring competitiveness in the game.

Kohli’s Assertion
Though combative Kohli says his team will not start the sledging war, Australian pacer Pat Cummins refuses to buy it. Cummins feels it will be hard for Kohli to stay quiet given his competitive nature. Kohli was even assertive before leaving for Australia and said they would not like any kind of altercation. So, there is the added interest if the series will go without any acrimonious events.

The home team, under new Test captain Tim Paine, is believed to play with a smile and project a nice boy image. “I think you will see a lot of passion from both the sides but nothing super fiery like we saw against India a few years ago,’’ says Cummins.

In the last series, the Aussies had called Kohli a spoilt brat. The Indian skipper gets the adrenaline flowing Down Under. “I like playing against Australia because it is very hard for them to stay calm. I don’t mind an argument on the field. I respect a few of them but if someone doesn’t respect me, I’ve got no reason to respect them,’’ he had said.

The stage is set for what could be an interesting series as India, which will have three different teams for the three formats, look well prepared with a good fighting combination that can undermine the Aussies.