The Indians bounced back in style at Bengaluru to level the series. While Virat’s men are showered with a lot of praise, but the incident of Steve Smith’s brain-fade regarding the DRS in the fourth innings has overshadowed team India’s marvelous achievement. Then Virat Kohli’s hostile press conference after the match has added more fuel to the whole saga and still, the cricketing fraternity is busy debating about the saga.
But I am not here to talk about DRS, hostility, banters or Virat’s press conference, but my subject of interest is about the current Australian unit who have successfully tested the best Test team at their own back yard.
During the India-Bangladesh Test match, while chatting on air, Ravi Shastri and I agreed that the series against Australia would be the toughest for India for this home season. After two thrilling encounters, this hunch seems to have come true.
We were sure, it was going to be tough, but this Australian performance must have taken even their most optimistic supporters by surprise.
Some might think, Have the Aussies been lucky? Or, Have India played badly?
If you ask me about luck, let me state, I firmly believe, luck depends on your efforts and regarding India’s performance, I think, their effort on the field lacked the cutting edge and intent.
But I must agree, Australia’s preparation for this series has been up to the mark.
I feel ‘talent’ and ‘potential’ are over-rated facets. It is expected, one would have a certain amount of talent to reach a decent level. But talent is nothing without breaking sweat and utilizing it the right way. Sheer determination and hard work help to flourish talents and that’s where Steve Smith’s Australia strike the right chord.
Virat Kohli’s hard work to conquer shortcomings
Virat Kohli can be a very good example in this case. Even not so long ago, Virat was predominantly an onside player. Before the away series against Sri Lanka two years ago, he realized, he needs an option against spin bowling on rank turners. His choice was the sweep shot and thus, worked harder on it and in the course of time, he made the shot of his own.
Then he conquered his weaknesses against the deliveries pitching outside offstump. Pacers like James Anderson, Stuart Broad and co exposed Kohli and in England three years ago, he was found wanting. But Kohli didn’t lose hope, but came back home as a wise man and worked harder on his weakness by improving the cut shot.
At present, if anything pitches short or outside off, he would dish out the cut shot with authority and he is not a vulnerable batsman in that region anymore.
Kohli’s success in the shorter format should be a case study in business schools. Realising that he’s not a big boundary hitter, but what he can do well is pick the gaps and go for a run, which inturn means his fitness levels has to be at the top and he broke down sweat to establish himself as one of the fittest persons in the game.
What about the Australian captain Steve Smith?
When Steve Smith started his career, he was dubbed as the replacement of Shane Warne and an effective lower order batter. But after a few years, he is the number 1 Test batsman in the world. Smith’s technique is not one of those to impress the purists, but day by day, he worked on his technique to make his weakness into strength and despite playing with an angled bat, he mastered playing the spin bowling on testing tracks by relying more on simple basics – going behind the line of the ball as early as possible, using the bat straight and on the back foot. Last year in Sri Lanka, his knack to come onto the front foot created problems, but at present, those doubts and confusions are absent. The confidence grew because of sheer hard work.
Virat and Smith are talented cricketers, but their talent would never have been useful if they took it for granted and not put enough efforts to improve.
It’s all about Australia’s preparation and not just luck
While the Twenty20 series was going on in Australia, the Australian Test team travelled to Dubai to practice in conditions you get in the sub-continent and then set foot in India to play a warm-up game. They came under fire from certain quarters for not taking the Sri Lanka series seriously, but from a tactical point of view, it was sacrificed to achieve a bigger goal.
Even though not much has been revealed in terms of the process of their preparation. I’ve been told, they were practicing on roughed up pitches to kill the demons of rank-turners. It’s not just planning, they also seemed to have the mental and physical discipline to stay longer on such tracks.
As, for example, the toughest ball from a spinner on a turning track is the one that keeps straight. That’s what they planned against Jadeja, play for the straight-ball and within the body, even if you beat them outside off stump. No wonder then that Jadeja beat the batsman numerous times in the first Test, but didn’t have too many wickets to show for it. Compare that with Steve O’Keefe’s six-wicket haul in the second innings at Pune – five of those, came from straight deliveries.
In a series like this, mind games are important. From the day the Australians landed, they’ve emphasised on being the underdogs, thus softening the opposition and their supporters (who were on a high of an unbeaten run). Most importantly, it took the ‘pressure of expectations’ and ‘spotlight’ off their young side.
There is this huge public uproar over pitches. I don’t think it affected the Australians too much and it was very evident when I went to do the pitch report on the first morning of the first Test. Smith and Mitch smiled the pitch issue off, as if they were insulated from the outside.
I can’t say the same for the visitors during the England series, even though they played on flatter and batting-friendly tracks.They say a smile can take you a long way. I haven’t seen an Australian side smile so much during a Test match as this one.
In terms of preparation, it seems, the Australians haven’t left out DRS either, but this time, they’ve gone a little too far with it which may quite rightly get them into trouble with the authorities. It will be interesting to see how prepared they are to handle this controversy and the series from here on, especially after losing the second Test from a strong position. Virat and his boys might have been surprised initially, but they too look prepared now.
But this Australian team is a dangerous unit and has the ability to surprise everyone.