Australian cricketers celebrate after winning the first Test against India in Pune on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Australia may have done India a huge favour by winning the opening Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in Pune on Saturday. Steve Smith and his men punctured the Indian team's ego and shattered the layer of over confidence or complacency which may have crept in through the comprehensive series wins over New Zealand and England. It's hard, though, to digest this massive loss because Team India were like an unstoppable runnaway train until a few days ago.
I remember some Australian youngsters coming over to the National Cricket Academy under the guidance of Greg Chappell to experience playing on sub-continent pitches. They learnt the skills of negotiating spinners on turning tracks, something which I feel paid rich dividends and vindicated their development plan of grooming young up and coming cricketers.
As well documented, the Australians had a camp in Dubai where the blueprint for the Indian tour was charted – all while India were playing Bangladesh in the one-off Test at Hyderabad.
In-form Virat Kohli contributed to most of India's recent wins with the lower order chipping in with vital partnerships. With a great degree of team spirit and confidence, India waited anxiously of this Test series, but they were tested to the core mentally, physically and skill-wise. The fact that the Australians were expecting turning tracks and prepared hard to hone their skills showed that they were very anxious about playing on turning tracks and tackling the guile of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Probably, flat tracks should have been dished out in the first two Test matches which would have given the India top-order batters time to get into rhythm and the bowlers could have been rotated too to keep them fresh for the last two Test matches. At the same time, the Australian fast bowlers would have put in extra efforts and this would have tired them mentally and physically. Playing on good wickets in the first two Tests and suddenly challenged to play on turning tracks in the next two would have been a different ball game.
Also, the pressure of losing the series when challenged would have added to Australia's anxiety and that would have the been the right time to let loose a spinner to go for the kill. However, India gave the Aussies what they were expecting (turning track) instead of surprising them with a different plan.
The Australians are masters when it comes to physical and mental disintegration of opponents, which is worth emulating. They do it so well – at times through their media, showing concern and helplessness of getting top batsmen out, planting the seeds of complaceny or doubt depending whom they are targeting.
They work shrewdly all the time on the skills that are required to implement tactics and plans for each Indian
batsman. I am pleased with Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma's performance. Umesh looks a much improved and mature bowler than what he was six months ago. He has understood the importance of bowling line and length, even for a fast bowler.
Pace will pay
In addition, he now has the skill to control the swing of the new ball and use it well when it starts reversing. It's also good to see Ishant running in well and being much more stable with his back-foot landing and at the point of release.
His consistency has improved and with some more work on the positioning of his wrist and fingers at the point of release — coming down vertically to make the ball land on the seam — will make him a more effective bowler.
Meanwhile, Team India should dust themselves and remember all is not lost. I believe this team has the talent to win the remaining Tests and clinch the series, opening Test blues notwithstanding.