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Aussies lack spine and pride

Updated on: 27 February,2023 05:46 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

This is their weakest team to visit India. Perhaps their deplorable performance reflects a bigger malaise—T20 cricket robbing batsmen of their skills to build innings by eschewing risky strokes

Aussies lack spine and pride

Pat Cummins of Australia leads the team off the ground after they were defeated by India at Arun Jaitley Stadium on February 19. Pic/Getty Images

Ajaz AshrafAustralia, down 0-2 in the ongoing four-match series, cannot now conquer the “final frontier”, a term Steve Waugh coined in 2001 to signify his country’s abiding passion for vanquishing India in India. But Pat Cummins’ men can still stave off the ignominy of being the weakest team from Down Under to visit India.

Even this seems difficult to achieve, given his team’s supine performance. It seems the Australians are facing a mental meltdown, which they did not experience even in their 4-0 whitewash during the 2013 tour of India.

On that tour, they crossed the 300-run mark twice, totalled over 200 in all but two innings, and did not seem like rabbits caught in the headlights. The current Australian team, as of now, exudes little hope of lasting five days in the two remaining Tests, let alone winning them.

The Australians famously practised on scuffed-up pitches to learn mastering darting balls. The demons were in their minds, not so much in the Test wickets, evident from Indian pacers Mohammed  Shami and Mohammed Siraj taking eight of the 40 Australian wickets that have fallen thus far.

Captain Cummins, by contrast, is the only Australian quickie to be among the wickets—that too, just three. Sure, Mitchell Starc and John Hazlewood were unavailable because of injuries. Still, did it make sense for Australia to play the second Test with three spinners and a lone fast bowler?

Slow Indian wickets make speedsters less fearsome—but not ineffective. On the first Australian tour of India in 1956-1957, if leg-spinner Richie Benaud had a rich harvest of wickets, so did fast bowling great Ray Lindwall, who took seven wickets in the second innings of the first Test that India lost by an innings. On their second tour, in 1959-60, Benaud combined with quickie Allan Davidson to enable Australia to wrap up the three-Test series 2-1.

Never a pushover at home, the one Test India won was largely due to off-spinner Jasubhai Patel’s 9 for 69 in the first innings and a five-for in the second. India drew the next series at home 1-1, with B S Chandrasekhar and Bapu Nadkarni weaving a web of spin around the Aussies. But this did not mean Australia imitated India—it deployed a battery of fast bowlers, with one or two excellent, at times mediocre, spinners to give their attack the lethal edge.

For instance, in the five-match 1969-70 series that Australia won 3-1, Graham McKenzie and Alan Connolly played a role no less crucial than spinners John Gleeson and Ashley Mallet, who took 28 wickets on the tour. Their star-studded battling lineup—Bill Lawry, Keith Stackpole, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Paul Sheahan—kept at bay the spinning trio of E A S Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi and S Venakataraghavan.

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The 1969-70 series victory was Australia’s last on Indian soil until 2004. Between these two victories, India always triumphed. Yet, in none of those series did Australia seem as lacklustre as its current team. There was always the thrill of watching a Glen McGrath, a Jason Gillespie, a Damien Fleming operate with the shining cherry—and spinning great Shane Warne. There was always a Michael Kasprowicz to spring a surprise. It was sublime joy to watch the Waugh brothers, Damien Martyn, Dean Jones, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clark bat—or be awed by the brutal hitting, say, of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

Cummins’ team should draw inspiration from the 1979-80 Australian team, which did not comprise their top players, who had been lured to play in media tycoon Kerry Packer’s “circus cricket.” Yet their fast bowling reserve was deep enough to produce Rodney Hogg and Geoff Dymock—and a spinner like Bruce Yardley. Emerging batsmen like Allan Border, Kim Hughes, Dav Whatmore and Andrew Hilditch saved their team humiliation, going down just 0-2 in a six-match series.

A close look at the 2004-05 series shows what it takes an overseas team to win in India. Australia, in the first innings of the first Test, was propelled by Clark’s stylish 151 and Adam Gilchrist’s blistering 104 in 109 balls to 449. India could reach only 246, with McGrath, Gillespie, and Kasprowicz together taking eight wickets and Warne two. In the second knock, Australia mustered 228, setting a victory target of 447 for India, which managed just 239 runs. Aussie pacers accounted for seven Indian wickets.

The second Test was a draw. The third Test at Nagpur was played on a greentop, allegedly prepared at the behest of Vidarbha Cricket Association President Shashank Manohar, who wanted to spite Jagmohan Dalmiya, then Cricket Board’s President. Australia expectedly won, with their fast bowlers trumping the Indians. Even a tailor-made spinning track in the fourth Test could have seen Australia win—they fell short of victory by only 13 runs.

Perhaps Australia’s deplorable performance reflects a bigger malaise—T20 cricket robbing batsmen of their skills to build their innings by eschewing risky strokes. T20 may have also depleted the Australian reserve of fast bowlers. In the end, though, Cummins has been let down more by his batsmen than the bowlers—and now, even he will be missing from the Third Test.

The writer is a senior journalist.
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