The long, hot and spinning road

Paul McCartney knew all about it.  A Test series in India is a long and winding road for the visiting team.  The current Australian team is finding it hard going and why wouldn’t they?  Just about all before them have.  There is a lot of advice being handed out at the moment (for example, why would you play only one spinner?) but much of the criticism is fuelled by disappointment.  If one conducts some objective analysis, it is possible to have a fairer perspective.

Australia did the unthinkable last night and forced India to bat again.  With nine wickets down and still 17 runs from making India bat again, it would have taken an optimistic person to forecast that India would need to bat again in the Test, let alone on day five.  As Australia’s score approached 192, the magic mark to avoid an innings defeat, I was cheering as if a few more runs would result in victory.  My oldest daughter, who I admit is a stereotypical Y-gen, asked why bother fighting in a lost cause.  Tisk, tisk.  I will give you my answer presently but first to the bigger picture.

Australia has come to India with only a handful of players that have ever played a Test in India.  Keep in mind that playing in IPL is no comparison.  Those men are Clarke, Watson, Siddle and Johnson (who was left out of this Test, much to my surprise).  Watching the Australian batsmen against Sri Lanka, in Australia recently, it was obvious that few of them had a clue against spin bowling.   On the other side of the coin, Australia has no world class spinners.  So why would they be expected to prosper?  Michael Clarke will most likely be singing, “Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve tried…” well before this tour is over.

In 57 years, Australia has played 42 Tests in India and won just 12 of them.  India has won 15 with the rest drawn or tied.  India first visited Australia about 10 years before the return visit and in those 66 years, Australia and India have played in Australia 40 times and Australia has won on 26 occasions and India just five.  That is a stark difference.  Australia struggles in India and India struggles even more in Australia.

Australia has won just one series in India since 1969.  That was in late 2004 when Gilchrist lead a mighty team to India a won 2-1.  That team won the third Test to take a two nil lead and that was the last Test Australia has won on Indian soil.

Remember that Mark Taylor took a powerful team to India in 1998 (which included the Waughs, Warne, Slater and Ponting but had no star pace bowler) and was soundly trounced.  Steve Waugh returned in 2001 with an even better team (which had all of the above plus Hayden, McGrath and Gillespie) and was on the cusp of a series win before Laxman and Harbhajan turned it around.

Australia finds it hard to win in India and has done since 1960.   Richie Benaud’s team won in 1969 and in his autobiography, he detailed how much planning and determination went into that series win.  It was something he was very proud of.   All of the other great captains thereafter didn’t get that winning feeling – Chappell, Border, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting – they all missed out.

And why should Lyon and Henriques have bothered yesterday with what was, and still is, a lost cause?  Team and personal pride.  Experience.  I hope Lyon took a good chance to have a close-up look at his superior colleagues.  Moises showed once again great talent against spin bowling.  While his style is not like that of his fleet footed captain, he does get forward and he reacts and adjusts brilliantly.  He is an unexpected find.  The funny thing is that I wonder if he will prosper in other conditions as well (e.g. England?).

Anyway, Australia could have played three of their spinners and it probably would not have made a shred of difference.  However, there seems little point in playing three specialists quicks.  I would only play two in the next Test and play Maxwell.  The team needs another batsman and what better place to improve your spin bowling than in India?  But whatever happens, I would not be expecting Australia to win any Tests in this series.  But they should still try!

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