Australian tour is around the corner. The experience of test matches in England must be fresh in the minds of the selectors. So, what should we be looking at for the test matches in Australia. Let’s be clear and mindful of one thing. Hardly any batsman in the world now or ever before can claim mastery over the overcast condition, when the ball moves quite a bit in the air and off the seam. Even the English batsmen’s plight was quite dismal during the last test series. The important point, however, is that they kept winning and we kept losing! In Australia, the conditions may not be as tough as it gets in England, New Zealand and many times in South Africa.
However, Indian batsmen would have to confront Mitchell Strac, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins – all talented, shrewd and different from each other. Given the greater bounce in Australia and expectantly more grass on the pitch, life isn’t going to be easy for Indian batsmen. To top it with a spinner of the calibre of Nathan Lyon and a fourth seamer in Mitchell Marsh for providing breather to the other bowlers, it is a signal for Indian batsmen to beware! What skills should be looked at in batting? How should team India prepare for the tour?
Let’s look at the easy part first. Pace bowling is going to be the weapon for both teams. India was never blessed with the plethora of talent available now. So, the pickings here should be easy! Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav. Only three can possibly play in the final eleven. That is a good headache for the captain and the coach to have! Will there be room for Khaleel Ahmed, being a left armer? May be not in the test matches yet. What about Mohammed Siraj, who did so well for India A under Indian conditions? Perhaps in contention, should anyone of the top five be injured.
What about the spin department? Again, not so tough to select. Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav? Also, Ravindra Jadeja could be a strong contender in the playing eleven after his last performance with the bat, in England.
Now comes the main issue of batting, which has been the bane of Indian cricket outside the sub-continent. Our batsmen have not been batting the correct way, hence floundering with predictable regularity against swing and bounce. The lack of ability to play pace bowlers on the back-foot for scoring runs is the root cause! The penchant for successfully playing almost everything on the front foot in the slow and “low bounce” tracks of the sub-continent, hasn’t helped.
As the initial feet movement of the Indian batsmen habitually remains to be “front-footed”, there is less time to adequately get back on to the back foot, unless one is as clear headed and as talented as Virat Kohli. The initial front foot movement takes away those precious nano-seconds to rock back completely. Therefore, to in-swinging and in-coming balls, the batters limited feet adjustments are resulting in frequent LBW or the ball hitting the stumps through bat and pad. Similarly, the batters are having less time to react and adjust to “out-swinging and out cutting” balls, resulting in more edges going to the slip cordon.
Whereas with swifter back foot movement, one has more time and hence, the body cab be brought into better positions, for a wider view of the ball, to make any last moment adjustments. The case in point was Sam Curran who played mainly from the crease and got those useful runs lower down, which clearly was the difference between winning & losing!!!The moot point though here is that one has got to have enough run scoring ability off the back foot. Also, if one moves back to the short-of-a-good-length balls from fast bowlers, it would force them to bowl a lot fuller. It can then be played with lesser complications on the front foot. Still there is no guarantee of success, yet it may provide better chance of survival with some relatively quicker runs.
Sachin Tendulkar would rock back, drive, pull and flick with impunity; Ricky Ponting too was a master at it. Rahul David, though essentially a front foot player, stepped quite back to smother the ball.
Vishwanath and Sehwag could cut with ferocity either by staying at the crease or by going back. Mohinder Amarnath, who was once hailed as “one of the two best players of super-fast bowling” by the great Clive Lloyd, would hook & pull by staying back against the highest quality fast bowlers. His 900 plus runs in two consecutive series against collective groups of superlative fast bowlers, in their own back yards, bear testimony!
It brings to the fore, the credentials required for being India’s batting coach for test matches outside sub-continent. Are we looking at someone who has “seen-it-all and done-it-all”? Is there a batting coach of a similar stature in the Indian test contingent right now? Could we consider Mohinder Amarnath to prepare these current test batsmen well before the Australian tour starts, even if not as a full-time batting coach? A few tips on back foot play from Sachin Tendulkar can do no harm.
Prithvi Shaw seems a certainty to open the innings in Australia. It would be quite a baptism by fire. Though at some stage it is bound to happen for him. He would be better off having it early in his test career. The other opener logically seems to be Lokesh Rahul, a bundle of talent, but yet to iron out some flaws and firm up his position as a test opener. Mayank Agarwal who remained in the reserves, has a case for another selection. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane must tighten up their game to be more consistent. Take a leaf out of Virat Kohli and start believing that they too must have the mind-set to stand up alone to win games for India.
What about a wicket keeper and an all-rounder? Wriddhiman Saha is way ahead of others in wicket keeping but his batting at the lower order is a bit of a suspect. One needs a lower order wicket-keeper batsman who also has the ability to score swiftly. Clearly Rishabh Pant fits in here. Another one is Parthiv Patel, probably the gutsiest one. Coming to the spot of one all-rounder in the playing eleven, it would be either a batting allrounder or a bowling one. Depending on the pitch and playing conditions, the captain and coach would have to take a call. Hanuma Vihari fits in as a batting all-rounder.
This probably was the reason for his preference over Karun Nair in the last test match in England. Does Hardik Pandya fit in as a bowling all-rounder? Yes, by all means, as a fast bowler clocking well above 135 Kms per hour and quite often above the 140 mark. It is his batting which is a concern when playing outside the sub-continent. He would have to find a way out, very soon, to play off the back foot and use his natural hitting ability to be the game changer. Some additional training for him is a must.
If an additional middle order batsman is required to be taken on the tour, then who else other than Ambati Rayudu? A word about Murli Vijay. He has proven to be a reliable opener under all conditions and countries and is still relatively young. Although he was out of contention for the West Indies test series, due to consistent failures in the last two series in South Africa and England, he must find a way out. At one time, he along with Kohli, Pujara and Rahane had formed the formidable batting pillars for India.
India must have advance training sessions under simulated conditions before embarking to Australia. It is a good idea to have at least two practice games before getting into the Test arena with Australia. Australia are without their two stalwarts in Steve Smith and David Warner. However, in Australia especially after losing to Pakistan in the UAE, they will come back strongly on Indians, particularly their three fast bowlers. Let’s look forward to a gripping series, down under!