Heading up to the Australia in India test series, I thought to look at the last 4 test series when Australia played in India to give some kind of clue as to how the series was won, what went right and what went wrong and hence what is likely to work.
Note: I am not going to look at India in Australia series, which are vastly different, nor am I looking at any ODI or T20 series.
2010/11 - India won 2 match series 2-0.
The most recent test series was a whitewash for India, but it was definitely a tight one, with the first test being decided by a solitary wicket, thanks largely to a 9th wicket partnership of 81 between VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma, with the final partnership getting the last 11 runs. Up until that point, Australia were marginally ahead for the entire match, albeit never by much, and had managed a first innings lead batting first. The second test was also very tight, with India batting second managing a small lead thanks to a double century by Tendulkar and a century by Murali Vijay before, chasing a difficult 207 for victory, Chetan Pujara stormed home on his test debut to lead them to an ultimately comfortable wicket victory.
Australia's best bowlers were:
- Doug Bollinger (left arm medium fast) with 5 wickets at 16.20
- Mitchell Johnson (left arm fast) with 8 wickets at 32.62
- Peter George (right arm medium fast) with 2 wickets at 38.50
- Ben Hilfenhaus (right arm medium fast) with 6 wickets at 43.50
- Nathan Hauritz (right arm off spin) with 6 wickets at 65.00
The injury to Doug Bollinger seriously hurt Australia's chances in the 2nd test but it also seems that had Australia gone with all pace, they could have easily won both tests.
In the batting stakes, Shane Watson (271 runs at 67.75) and Ricky Ponting (224 runs at 56.00) were the only two batsmen to do well for Australia.
India's best bowlers were:
- Zaheer Khan (left arm medium fast) with 12 wickets at 21.83
- Harbhajan Singh (right arm off spin) with 11 wickets at 33.18
- Ishant Sharma (right arm medium fast) with 3 wickets at 35.00
- Pragyan Ojha (left arm orthodox) with 9 wickets at 38.77
- Sreesanth (right arm medium fast) with 2 wickets at 63.50
In spite of India using a 2 spinners in both matches, a pace bowler, Zaheer Khan, was the standout bowler, and, while Sreesanth was largely ineffective, Sharma wasn't too bad. Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha got a lot of overs, and hence took 20 of the wickets to fall, but India probably would have been better off to have used more pace, at least if Zaheer Khan's twin were available.
In the batting stakes, Sachin Tendulkar (403 runs at 134.33) was amazing, while Murali Vijay (176 runs at 88.00) and VVS Laxman (75 runs at 75.00) also had good returns.
It seems as if India's selectors have gone back to that series with their selections by picking Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha again, as well as giving Murali Vijay a go. But Murali Vijay's solitary success was alongside a rampant Sachin Tendulkar and individually was only a support role, and Harbhajan and Ojha actually weren't that great. This seems to imply that the Indian selectors have gone on statistics alone and not actually looked at who actually won them the matches. If they were looking at who was good, why not pick Zaheer Khan? Is he that badly out of form?
That last series either shows that Australians are getting better at playing Indian spinners in India, or else Indian spinners aren't as good as they used to be. Either way, India should probably be wary of going in with an avalanche of spinners, as their pacers could do a lot of damage.
2008/09 - India won 4 match series 2-0
In the first test match, Australia dominated throughout before India correctly shut up shop rather than go for the difficult run chase and safely batted out a draw. The second match similarly went until the final day but Australia could not stop the avalanche and lost by a massive 320 runs with Michael Clarke the only one who even briefly withstood the attack. The third match was dominated by India but some stoic defiance in the first innings by Michael Clarke meant that India ran out of time to go for the win and ultimately it ended with a very boring draw. The fourth match started with India slightly ahead and while they never dominated they got further and further ahead to win by 172 runs in a very professional display and Australia only lasted for half of the final day.
Australia's best bowlers were:
- Jason Krezja (right arm off break) with 12 wickets at 29.83
- Shane Watson (right arm medium fast) with 10 wickets at 32.10
- Mitchell Johnson (left arm fast) with 13 wickets at 40.07
- Peter Siddle (right arm medium fast) with 4 wickets at 44.00
- Brett Lee (right arm fast) with 8 wickets at 61.62
- Cameron White (right arm leg break) with 5 wickets at 68.40
- Stuart Clark (right arm medium fast) with 2 wickets at 80.50
In this series oddly Australia used a part timer in Cameron White to bowl as their full time spin bowler for 3 of the 4 tests, before bringing in Jason Krezja. While Krezja did take 12 wickets on debut he was never influential in the match and India were all well ahead. Tendulkar claimed that they were simply giving their wickets away to go for big runs and that Krezja was not a good bowler. Shane Watson did very well and, in the context of a high scoring series, so too did Mitchell Johnson, but Siddle, Lee and Clark were all slaughtered. Of note, Peter Siddle is in this current squad and if he repeats his effort in 2008/09, he would be best left on the sidelines, while Mitchell Johnson should be in the starting line up.
In the batting stakes, Michael Hussey (394 runs at 56.28) was the leading contributor but Simon Katich (349 runs at 49.85) wasn't far behind and Michael Clarke (251 runs at 35.85) was also useful.
India's best bowlers were:
- Amit Mishra (right arm leg break) with 14 wickets at 24.07
- Ishant Sharma (right arm medium fast) with 15 wickets at 27.06
- Harbhajan Singh (right arm off spin) with 14 wickets at 28.86
- Zaheer Khan (left arm medium fast) with 11 wickets at 43.18
- Anil Kumble (right arm leg break) with 3 wickets at 95.33
In this series, spin dominated with Mishra and Harbhajan doing well but old man Anil Kumble had a rare poor series. Ishant Sharma was very useful but Zaheer Khan didn't do very well at all, in a series that India's spin definitely did better than their pace.
In the batting stakes, VVS Laxman (381 runs at 95.25) was the best performed but Gautam Gambhir (463 runs at 77.16), MS Dhoni (307 runs at 61.40), Sachin Tendulkar (396 runs at 56.57) and an aging Sourav Ganguly (324 runs at 54.00) all did very well.
In a high scoring series, Australia's batting wasn't too bad but they really missed a trick by playing Cameron White as a front line spinner, as shown in the final test when Krezja finally played. Stuart Clark and Brett Lee bowled very badly, as did Peter Siddle and it was really left to part timer Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson to do most of the work.
2004/05 - Australia won 4 match series 2-1
Note: This largely forgotten series was the rematch after the classic 2000/01 series that India surprisingly won 2-1 and on this occasion Australia actually won it, for the first time in decades.
In the first match, Australia dominated from start to finish with Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist combining for dual centuries to set up a huge lead and big win. India were actually winning the second match, and were set just 229 for victory before rain washed out the final day and led to a frustrating draw. Australia won the third match by a huge margin after a century to Justin Langer and a 90 to Michael Clarke before Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath tore the Indian batting line up apart to record a huge 343 run victory and win the series. In the fourth test, which was a dead rubber, India were again destroyed by Jason Gillespie, all out for 104, before Damien Martyn's 55 led Australia to a big lead with 203 before VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar batted like gods in scoring 69 and 55 respectively to set up a victory target of just 107 on a disintegrating wicket, one that fell apart so much that part timer Michael Clarke managed 6 for 9, but then Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik did one better to give India a 14 run victory.
Australia's best bowlers were:
- Jason Gillespie (right arm fast) with 20 wickets at 16.15
- Glenn McGrath (right arm medium fast) with 14 wickets at 25.42
- Michael Kasprowicz (right arm medium fast) with 9 wickets at 28.33
- Shane Warne (right arm leg break) with 14 wickets at 30.07
- Nathan Hauritz (right arm off spin) with 5 wickets at 20.60
- Michael Clarke (left arm off spin) with 6 wickets at 2.16
While Michael Clarke did manage 6 wickets for 2 he wasn't really the dominant spinner and, as described by journalists on the day, it was a minefield to bat on and the fact that India already had a 100+ lead made his contribution somewhat meaningless. Similarly, Nathan Hauritz, bowling on that minefield, had inflated figures. The real bowler of the series was Jason Gillespie, ably supported by Glenn McGrath, while Michael Kasprowicz, the 3rd fast bowler, also did very well. Of some note, though, Shane Warne had his best ever series in India, but he didn't win Australia any games and was really only a support act.
Michael Clarke (400 runs at 57.14) was the standout batsman, while Damien Martyn (444 runs at 55.50) also did pretty well in a largely bowler dominated series.
India's best bowlers were:
- Murali Kartik (left arm orthodox) with 12 wickets at 17.25
- Harbhajan Singh (right arm off spin) with 21 wickets at 24.00
- Anil Kumble (right arm leg spin) with 27 wickets at 25.37
- Zaheer Khan (left arm medium fast) with 10 wickets at 36.80
- Irfan Pathan (left arm medium fast) with 2 wickets at 84.00
- Ajit Agarkar (right arm medium fast) with 1 wicket at 167.00
This series saw 3 spin bowlers doing very well and the main pacer, Zaheer Khan, also did very well. Indeed, India's bowlers did better than Australia's - except that their 2 worst bowlers, Irfan Pathan and Agarkar, were so bad that they cost India matches. Perhaps they should have gone all spin?
Virender Sehwag (299 runs at 42.71) was the best of a sorry looking batting result but it was a bowling-dominated series.
This was a close series but ultimately Australia's Michael Clarke meant that India's spin arsenal was thwarted somewhat, and, even though the conditions hugely helped India's 3 spinners, those same conditions helped Australia's 3 main fast bowlers, who ended up with similar records, proving that even if the conditions are meant to suit spinners, quality fast bowlers like Gillespie, McGrath and Kasprowicz, can extract the same amount of problems from the pitch as quality spinners.
2000/01 - India won 3 match series 2-1
In the first test, McGrath destroyed India's top order with 3/19 off 19 overs, and Warne mopped up the tail, Australia through Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist set up a massive match winning lead after just the first innings, before McGrath and Gillespie cleaned up in the second innings and Australia won by 10 wickets. In the second test, Australia set up a huge lead thanks to Steve Waugh and Matthew Hayden before McGrath's 4/18 set up a huge lead and Australia foolishly enforced the follow on, only to have tired bowlers ending up being slaughtered by first Das and Ramesh, then VVS Laxman, then Ganguly, then Laxman some more, then Dravid, then Laxman some more, and then eventually they set up a lead that gave India a chance of a victory, and, amazingly, in spite of a 74 run opening partnership, Harbhajan Singh tore through the batting line up and set up an amazing come from behind 171 run victory, with VVS Laxman getting 340 runs for the match and Harbhajan Singh 13 wickets. In the third test, Matthew Hayden's 203 was up against Harbhajan Singh's 7 wicket haul in the first innings, then India got a lead thanks to a century from Sachin Tendulkar and contributions right through the order, then Harbhajan Singh went one better with 8 wickets in the second innings against a fighting Australian line up, and India managed to hold on to chase down the 155 run target with 2 wickets to spare with VVS Laxman's 66 runs again helping to win them the match - alongside Harbhajan Singh's 15 wickets, of course.
Australia's best bowlers were:
- Glenn McGrath (right arm medium fast) with 17 wickets at 15.35
- Jason Gillespie (right arm fast) with 13 wickets at 30.30
- Colin Miller (right arm medium fast/right arm off spin) with 6 wickets at 33.50
- Shane Warne (right arm leg spin) with 10 wickets at 50.50
- Michael Kasprowicz (right arm medium fast) with 2 wickets at 89.00
- Damien Fleming (right arm fast) with 1 wicket at 99.00
Once again, McGrath and Gillespie dominated, especially McGrath but it was the injury to Damien Fleming that really killed the attack, as Michael Kasprowicz was no comparison in terms of bowling strength. Shane Warne, who was recovering from injury, was ineffective, while Colin Miller did okay in his one match. If only Brett Lee could have toured as support for Fleming!
In the batting stakes, it was all Matthew Hayden (549 runs at 109.80) in a series that made him as a player, while Steve Waugh (243 runs at 48.60) also did pretty well.
India's best bowlers were:
- Harbhajan Singh (right arm off spin) with 32 wickets at 17.03
The rest don't really matter as nobody else got more than 3 wickets and all of them were slaughtered.
In the batting stakes, it was all VVS Laxman (503 runs at 83.83), though Rahul Dravid (338 runs at 56.33) and Sachin Tendulkar (304 runs at 50.66) also contributed strongly.
India were basically a 2 man team, or perhaps a 4 man team counting Dravid and Tendulkar, but really it was all Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman. While Laxman's individual performance was fascinating, Harbhajan Singh's contributions were even more astounding, especially considering that 28 of his 32 wickets were taken in the last 2 tests (13 and 15 respectively), though his 4 wickets in the first test were still the biggest contribution of any bowlers.
Barring those 4 players, Australia dominated, with solid batting, good bowling and so forth. Right up until Steve Waugh enforced the follow on, it looked like it was going to be an Australian white wash, a comfortable 3-0 victory in the series. It was the wrong decision, make no mistake about it, one of the worst decisions by a captain in cricketing history, and one which he should have known at the time was wrong and all of the commentators said at the time was the wrong decision. But for VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh to take advantage of that mistake to that big a degree was huge.
Overall: India 7, Australia 3 with 3 draws.
Series: India 3, Australia 1.
India will be big favourites to take out the series. It is a 4 test series and many would predict either a 2-0 or at worst 2-1 victory for India, though 3-0 wouldn't be out of the question, and, if they get lucky and get a run on, 4-0 is not out of the question. But Australia could win this too.
Based on history, India have done much better with spinners than fast bowlers in these contests, but Australia have done much better with fast bowlers than spinners. They actually figured that out in 2000/01 and repeated it with success in 2004/05 to have a narrow 2-1 loss and then a triumphant 2-1 win in those two series. When they returned with an obligatory spinner in Cameron White in 2008/09, they had their worst series in the past 12 years. The last series, a somewhat truncated one with just 2 tests, was very tight, with India just getting over the line, in spite of Australia being ranked much lower and having a much weaker side.
- Michael Clarke is the Australian batsman with the best record in India, starring in 3 of the 4 recent series - though not in the most recent series. He is in the form of his life, in unbelievable form, and just won international cricketer of the year. Without Hussey or Ponting or any other scary batsmen to back him up, it is either him or it is nothing. If he fails to fire, even with Australia having superior bowling power, they can't win. But if he fires, he could do an Alistair Cook-like performance.
- Shane Watson has a great record in India, both as a batsman and as a bowler, and, while he is likely to be without his bowling arm this time around, without the complication of having to bowl he may end up doing better and could be the support that Clarke needs.
- Mitchell Johnson is the fast bowler with Indian experience and has always done pretty well in India too. He is back to his tip top best form and could be an attack leader, especially if they decide to leave Peter Siddle out of the starting XI (and Siddle has a poor record in India, so that could be on the cards).
- Mitchell Starc has done tremendously well in India in both the IPL and in ODI and T20s and Indian fans love him; so he should do well in India; but whether he can translate that into test form in India is another matter entirely. He certainly will scare the Indian batsmen but if they can get on top of him, he may lose that belief and there could be problems.
- The selections as a whole are very important, and, with a 17 man squad they could do anything that they want to do, from 4 fast bowlers to 2 spinners to 2 all rounders and anything in between. Getting it right is essential. If they leave Mitchell Starc out, I can say straight out that they are costing the team any chance of winning.
For India, they just lost to England so many of their problems will be psychological.
- Selections as a whole for India too need to be spot on. They have 3 specialist spinners in the squad, all potential match winners; but they have to be certain of who to pick and have confidence in them, similarly with the batsmen.
- Rahane has made it into the team after a dominating 62.00 average in FC cricket but he has failed internationally so far in ODIs and T20s and needs to prove that he can make it at test level and isn't scared of the big time.
- Dhawan is a controversial pick ahead of Gambhir and needs to show that that hunch is on the money.
- Murali Vijay seems an odd pick in comparison to Jaffer, or either of Raina or Yuvraj Singh and he will need to show that this huge gamble is worth it.
- Sachin Tendulkar is well and truly into his twilight years, though against the expected pace barrage his experience could be vital, and he may need to prove it, to dig his heels in and lead the batting line up.
- Harbhajan Singh has a fantastic record against Australia in India but he is far from his best and the selectors will need to be prepared to use him properly, or swing the axe before he costs them the series, as this could be his last series if he fails to perform.
- Ravendra Jadeja domestically has been magnificent lately and was picked on the basis of that and now really needs to prove it or else he will go back to domestic cricket, or at least limited overs.
This is an enthralling contest that could ultimately go every which way and could get down to selections as much as anything. The matches and the series could be decided by the men that pick the final XI. Never before has a series rested so much on who the final XI are. For both teams, the right XI could win the match while the wrong one could lose it.