Australia’s spectacular collapse in the first Test of the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy has raised numerous questions about the preparedness of the visitors for their tour of India. While India were the overwhelming favourites going into the series, very few people expected the total collapse of Australia’s batting lineup in Nagpur.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja’s mastery of spin-friendly tracks is the primary reason India dominate on home grounds, and the visitors need to effectively counter the duo if they want to have a chance at winning a Test in India.
As the second Test gets underway at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi, here’s a look at what Australia need to do if they want to defeat India in India.
Confidence while batting
Australia’s struggles in the first Test were primarily in the batting department with the visitors struggling to score on the same track where Indian batsmen looked at ease.
The opening duo of David Warner and Usman Khawaja looked unprepared to face India’s seamers – something that the Australians are adept at doing all around the world. Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj took care of the opening duo in the first innings, displaying the kind of aggression that India showed when they toured Australia in 2021.
The middle order still looks unsettled with the inexperience of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb visible clearly when playing the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin.
Criticism back at home has mounted for the Australians with former captains and coaches lambasting the Australian team’s confidence while in the middle. Even Alex Carey, who managed to stem the collapse in the first innings for a while, failed to effectively build on his innings.
What Australia need is a change in their approach. The hype surrounding the series seems to have gotten into the player’s minds, making them take a defencive approach right from the first ball. This is contrary to what Australia are known for – even in recent years, the visitors are famed for their do-or-die approach right from the start of the game.
Compared to England, who adopted the “Bazball” approach that primarily relies on their batsmen being aggressive right from the first over, Australia seem to have regressed in their intent, focusing on preserving wickets rather than scoring runs.
India’s stature in Test cricket has risen in recent years mainly due to their refusal to give an edge to the opponents. With few bad balls on offer, the Australian lineup simply cannot wait it out in the middle for an opportunity to come to them.
Instead, they need to attack from the get-go, unsettling India’s bowling plans and putting pressure on the bowlers.
Steve Smith needs to lead
The only time Australia won a Test in India in the last decade was when Steve Smith put on a magnificent century in 2017. It is no doubt that the 33-year-old remains the main weapon in Australia’s arsenal.
Steve Smith was the only batsman who looked comfortable in the middle throughout the Nagpur Test with India’s bowlers struggling to take his wicket. The partnership between Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith was the only exception to an otherwise poor display by Australia in the first Test.
If Australia are to succeed in India, they would need their lead batsman to be in his best form. Despite his confidence in the middle, Steve Smith could only manage to score 37 and 25 runs in the first Test, hardly enough to put Australia in command of the game.
But it is his not duty alone to rescue Australia. In the second innings, Steve Smith could only remain a mute spectator as wicket after wicket fell at the other end, remaining not out having faced just 51 balls.
Australia need Steve Smith to be in the prime of his form, but they need to give him ample support from the other end to allow him to do that. Simply putting all the burden on him is unlikely to yield positive results for the visitors.
Spinners have to take centre stage
Cricket Australia parachuted Matthew Kuhnemann for the second Test with the 26-year-old making his debut in the Delhi Test. The immediate need for his presence was felt after the failure of Australia’s bowlers to tear through India’s lower-order batsmen.
While skipper Pat Cummins was quite effective, Australia’s fast bowlers will not find any support on India’s batting-friendly tracks. That leaves the bulk of the work to be done by the spinners.
Nathan Lyon, Australia’s most-experienced spinner, was ineffective in the first Test. He took just one wicket in 49 overs, conceding 126 runs in the process.
Todd Murphy tore through India’s top order on his debut, taking seven wickets. But even he struggled to find a breakthrough late into the game with Pat Cummins even bringing on Marnus Labuschagne to try and surprise India.
It remains to be seen if Matthew Kuhnemann can live up to the expectations on his debut, but putting so much responsibility on inexperienced shoulders might not be the most effective strategy for the visitors. Nathan Lyon needs to find back his form, and be just as effective as India’s spinner duo if Australia are to stop the runs from flowing when India bat.
Australia need both individual performances and a collective approach to win a Test in India, and if they fail to change their strategy, they might enter the World Test Championship final with a 4-0 loss in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
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