Australia in search of greatness on test tour of India
It all begins on Thursday at Nagpur’s VCA Stadium – about a half-hour drive down the dusty National Highway 44 from the city’s old venue where Australia sealed a historic triumph in 2004. And the first hurdle to overcome is perhaps the most difficult.
India have lost just one series at home since – to England in 2012. In fact, they have dropped just eight of their last 84 Tests on these shores.
One of these was Australia in the underrated series six years ago, when the unloved visitors came closer than many think for a stunning surprise. Their failure to bury India in Bangalore after bundling the hosts for 189 on day one proved costly.
“In a way it’s become the biggest mountain for Australian teams, certainly the biggest challenge,” said Taylor of the win in India.
“To be honest, it’s not always seen that way from a fan perspective. [Australian] The fans would give up not winning in India to make sure we win in England, but from a player’s perspective I’m sure the Aussie lads would like to tick that box as they are a team capable of winning in the subcontinent .”
Eight members of the current squad – Smith, Warner, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon, Starc, Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb – were there in 2017. Warner’s form has clearly deteriorated since then, but Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green and Alex Carey have risen, suggesting Australia’s 2023 team is the stronger version.
Conversely, this is not a bad time to attack India. Skipper Rohit Sharma contested only two of his team’s seven tests last year. Virat Kohli has not reached a century in this format in well over three years. Ironman Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped 12 months ago, although he fought back after being recalled late last year. Star paceman Jasprit Bumrah is injured, as are her 2020-21 hero, dynamic wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant, and in-form Shreyas Iyer. Were it not for vital innings from Pant and Iyer, India would likely have lost a Test to Bangladesh in December.
“Australia should see it that way,” said former India opener turned commentator Aakash Chopra.
However, Chopra doesn’t believe Australia have the spin power to beat India on their home stretches. After a shaky start, Lyon’s credentials in Asia are legit, but Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson have not proven themselves at the Test level, and Todd Murphy is untried. What Australia would give for a younger and more solid Steve O’Keefe.
“It takes serious spin quality to beat India in India,” Chopra said. “Going to Australia we knew our spin was great, but we needed a quartet of bowlers to take on Australia in Australia. We didn’t have that. We kept competing but couldn’t cross the final frontier.
“Swepson, Agar – they’re fine, but if it’s a good face I don’t think they run through the Indian batting lineup, even if there’s no Rishabh Pant, no Shreyas Iyer. There’s still enough quality to handle any challenges that might come their way.
“The lack of quality spin is one thing that could actually play a crucial role in Australia’s chances in terms of the series.
“On good pitches that can take the game to day five, I don’t see any potential weakness that will cost India the series. Maybe a test, but not the series.”
Australia are clearly at the top of the Test rankings and World Test Championship table, but for Chopra, if the Border-Gavaskar Trophy isn’t recaptured, they can’t even claim to be today’s best team, let alone one justify comparison with earlier eras.
“Possibly yes, if you beat India in India, England in England, which is plausible, and the World Cup in India,” Chopra said.
“Wow if they do all three yes yes it would be a momentous year in an already glorious Australian cricket history but it will take a lot before this Pat Cummins led team can beat India and conquer the world cup.”
Victory in Pakistan last year was a step in the right direction, but the draw in Sri Lanka was another reminder of how difficult it is for Australian teams to win in this part of the world.
“They ticked the Pakistani box last year, if they can win in India that’s a huge plus for Pat Cummins,” Taylor said. “If they could win in India it would certainly make them one of Australia’s great teams.”
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