How Test Cricket is the Ultimate Game of Chess in India


Although India poses a major challenge, Australia has its own problems to solve; David Warner is in patchy form and needs to improve his Test record in India; Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Travis Head and Cameron Green are tested against better spin quality than Pakistan and Sri Lanka; Marcus Labuschagne faces his first major test on the subcontinent; and Steve Smith’s recent shot tweaks will be examined more closely than against the West Indies, South Africa and in the BBL.

Australia can win this series. India are more vulnerable at home than they have been for a while with key players like Rishbah Pant, Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah injured. You will rely heavily on Virat Kohli.

Australia must take wickets at regular intervals. Partnerships are key, so they must prevent India from building them. To win, Australia must get wickets with the new ball. When the ball softens, they must bowl sparingly and then swing the old ball backwards. Spin is more of a weapon in India than Australia, but we always have to play our top four bowlers plus green.

With Green doubtful for the first test, getting the team balance right will be difficult. Choosing who the second spinner is will be crucial. With good batting wickets, Mitch Swepson should be the pick. Should the pitches favor spin, which is more likely, I expect Ashton Agar to win as finger spin is considered more accurate.

Anil Kumble, who took 619 wickets in Test cricket, rarely strayed from the straight and narrow. His tools of the trade were quick, shallow leg breaks that kept threatening the stumps. Batters knew they were in trouble when they missed. Jadeja’s trade balance is similarly incorruptible. Agar must imitate her roles. A bowler losing runs will make all the difference in a tight contest.

Erapalli Prasanna is arguably the best off spinner of all time. I fondly remember one evening in 2006 when we met for dinner in his hometown of Bangalore. “Pras”, who was an engineer by trade and a cricketer in his spare time, then gave me a memorable master class in the art of finger spin bowling.

I asked him what his plan was for a new batsman. He said he would spin the ball hard, try to hit it on the pads a lot, get him thinking about the spinning ball and then catch it with a straight ball in the crease, he said with a cheeky grin .

The line, he said, is optional, the length mandatory. Prasanna had “the other” before anyone knew what a Doosra was. He explained to me that he would lay the seam a little flatter than the traditional off spinner and then impose a higher number of spins on the ball that would cause the ball to drift like an off spinner, but once it landed on the leather, slide it with his arm and give the impression that he went “in the other direction”. As the leader of the Spin Attack, Nathan Lyon must pull pages from his book and lead the way.

It will be important that Australian bowlers don’t give cheap runs, especially for the Indian underclass who have been a bugbear in the past. On the surface, India appears handicapped by the loss of Pant, but Ishan Kishan is a capable substitute, batting aggressively.

If, as expected, throwing conditions favor spin, catching at close range will be crucial. Labuschagne and Smith are brilliant catchers, but one or the other has to spend a lot of time close to the bat, which is exhausting if you’re not used to it. The Indian close catchers, with their anticipation and agility, create wickets for their spinners that Australia will do well to replicate.

Australia must bat extraordinarily well in their first innings if they are to remain in contention. Otherwise the game can escape you very quickly.

Three good partnerships in each inning are required to produce winning results and if you think that’s easy let me tell you that the Indians will put the Australians through a relentless scrutiny of every aspect of batting.

Tours to India can make or break hit careers.

In February it’s cool in the mornings in the north, the playing fields are slower and the odd ball stays low. The good news for our speed attack is that the cool morning hours will provide early movement.

India has chosen its venues well. Rahul Dravid will be interested to see how Australia cope with the lack of bounce combined with spin.

Nathan Lyons.

Nathan Lyons.Credit:Getty

Delhi and Dharamshala are more suited to India than Australia. On the slower pitches, Indian batsmen are better suited as they stay low and create pace square the wicket with agile shots. Hitting the finish line in these conditions is risky. Australians, used to the extra jump to generate tempo with the lower hand, consequently struggle on the slower, lower pitches.

Nagpur is a red earth field where batting is at its best for the first three days unless they produce a raging gymnast.

Delhi and Dharamshala will be a fortress for India. There are both red and black bottom pitches in Ahmedabad and the condition of the series will determine what India orders.

Visiting teams are often fooled by a game that seems to be going nowhere but suddenly changes at a frenetic pace. The Indians are used to it, so Australia will have to adapt quickly with their wits, stick and ball.

Wear and tear takes a tremendous toll on touring teams. If India is in contention on day five, they will win.

For Australia to win, they must emulate the words of Austrian chess player Rudolf Spielmann: “Play the opening like a book, the middlegame like a magician and the endgame like a machine”.

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Ryan Sederquist

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