The same old tale of Australia’s defeat by India in Nagpur

India’s recent dominance of home and away Test series is the result of a similar process of professionalisation, building greater depth and utilizing cricket talent from across the game’s most populous power, rather than just a few key centers as has been the case for decades.


However, the current Aussie side are being pilloried for not appearing dejected enough in a loss or being too ‘friendly’ in the heat of a game all too often mistaken for a fight. His players and executives take that criticism with a considerable grain of salt.

Why? Because they’ve been here before. 2016 then carried out the test site Smith lost five Tests in a row. Three in Sri Lanka at similar places to Nagpur, then two at home in South Africa.

At the end of this sequence, during a tense encounter in the dressing room in Hobart after the second Proteas loss, a call came from the front to win again. What followed was a reaffirmation of the need for the Australian team to be tougher, louder and more passionate, summed up by the efficient replacement of Peter Nevill as wicketkeeper by the vocal Matthew Wade. Headbutt the line, remember?

Ultimately, these instructions set a young team on the shady path to the Newlands ball-tampering scandal. Smith, skipper Pat Cummins and most of the rest of the team still have that sequence in the back of their minds. And no matter how bleak Nagpur may have been, they are not keen on going back there.


What Australia needs to do on this tour is hold the line in terms of team planning. Changing things up after a bad first experience tends to lead to more mishaps: just ask Ponting about his hell of a trip to India in 2001, where a good first-ball from Harbhajan Singh was followed by attempts to sweep out of the Playing folds and coming down the pitch led to more failures.

This 2016 Sri Lanka tour was another where solid initial plans melted away after initial contact with the enemy. A mentality of helplessness crept in, alongside capricious selections that intensified upon returning home.

In Nagpur there were signs that players were questioning themselves and not finding the right balance. In particular, the sight of David Warner barely deigning to play shots in the second innings was a distressing sight for a die-hard shotmaker.

David Warner after his second innings exit.

David Warner after his second innings exit.Credit:Getty Images

If there are changes that need serious consideration, they lie far more within the broader structure and priorities of Australian cricket. Some of these, like the downsizing of the National Cricket Center as a graduating school for success abroad, need urgent attention.


Cricket Australia has a lot more money than it owned in the mid-1980s so it’s a matter of being smarter and more vigilant to best prepare young players in mindset and technique for the challenges in India, England and elsewhere. Less thoughtful drinkathons, more sensible evolution of contract system as currently being negotiated between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association.

But for Cummins and others in the here and now, the team’s more contemporary approach was to focus on the process, not worry so much about results, and also find ways to view cricket as a fun game , not to be endured as an attempt.

To that end, one of the more helpful statements this week actually came from Ben Stokes in New Zealand, as he reflected on his own side’s brave departure from much that had shaped English cricket in the past.

“Everything is going pretty well at the moment, but if things aren’t going well we won’t shy away from it,” he said. “We showed that against South Africa when we were beaten [in the first Test last year]. When you fail, it’s an opportunity to bounce back and show that you’re not worried or scared to go out and try the same.”

The determination to see Australia’s current project through, while keeping the team true to themselves and not relapsing into the old tropes of ‘ugly Australia’ runs deep in Cummins’ blood. Delhi will be a key test of that determination.

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Ryan Sederquist

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