Monday, October 8, 2007

How to beat Australia

Australia is here and is back to its winning, arrogant, swaggering, sledging ways. One can whinge endlessly about them or figure out a strategy to beat them. I suppose a lot of India is disappointed, that the results have been so far been so one sided, but to someone like me who has watched Australia closely over the years it is hardly surprising. In the 2007 world cup which one had the misfortune of watching live, the Australians were a cut above the rest and this was one of the reasons why the tournament was so uninteresting and predictable though the Australians opened up the tournament in the minds of media at least by losing the Commonwealth Bank series to England after drubbing them 5-0 in the Ashes and losing to New Zealand in the Chappell Hadlee series just before the World cup, despite being without some of their biggest stars. The World cup has been a happy hunting ground for the Australians and the last match they lost was way back in 1999 on the 13th of May to Pakistan which had the amazing Wasim Akram, who is now in the commentator’s box and is yet unable to inspire an Australian defeat by any other team in the premier cricketing championship in the world. However much the twenty-twenty world cup means to us in India, it is still new.

Is there a way?
Yet, Australia can be beaten and have been beaten on occasion. Australia have a simple formula in the one day game. They bat first and pile on an inspiring total. Look at this series and the three games that we have played so far. At Bangalore they scored 306 in the allotted fifty overs and before the rain came pelting down we were 9 for 1 in the third over. At Kochi they again scored 306 and we were 94 runs adrift. At Hyderabad Dhoni won the toss and surprisingly chose to field. The iffy conditions or so they seemed, did not matter to Gilchrist and Hayden as we started with our trademark wides. Once they have an imposing score then it is a familiar routine .Get an early wicket and then tighten the screws, soon the asking rate becomes 7 and 8 then all we are left wondering about is the margin of defeat which was 47 runs at Hyderabad. Are we getting closer? I hope so. The value of batting first has already been seen at Chandigarh as we have scored 291 and the Australians are under pressure for the first time in the series.

Intimidate them with bat or ball don’t sledge them.
Actually if you analyze Australian defeats over the last several years, the first thing that strikes you is that they have been few and far between. Yet there is a pattern to it. Lets go back to 2005 and the Ashes, albeit a different version of the game but essentially the same team, in fact better, as it had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as well. Remember the series? It started with Justin Langer being hit on the head and Ricky Ponting being hit on the cheek and Mathew Hayden being hit by an accidental [?] throw. The Australians were rattled and thrown out by substitute fielders. Duncan Fletcher annoyed them and they lost their cool .There is a lesson here. If you look at people like Graeme Smith they have tried to engage the Australians in: mental disintegration and end up coming second best and run to the media to complain. Harbhajan has just done that. This sledging and tall talk is all fine as long as it fires you up and not the opposition. Remember Flint off and Yuvaraj and the consequent six sixes. Poor Chris Broad, he felt the brunt of Yuvaraj’s reaction. That is my only worry about Sreesanth’s theatricals. Yes he is firing himself up but in the bargain is he inspiring the opposition as well? And comments like the one made by Robin Uthappa saying that we have a strategy for the Australians seem particularly interesting, since he was not even part of the team at Bangalore! Can we be subtle about the sledging like Stephen Fleming instead of being dumb about it? Back to the intimidation and Australian defeats, they have happened due to top flight pace bowling by the likes of Shane Bond [more often] and Mkhaya Ntini once in a while.

Spin the key
The Australians have struggled against the likes of Daniel Vettori in recent times. India must play two spinners in the sub continent at least. It is just unfortunate that Ramesh Powar has struggled, but who knows Murali Karthik may just be the talisman that we have been struggling so far to find! Batting second in our sub continental wickets with low, slow bounce will not be easy and this afternoon for the first time we are getting this opportunity. The next big opportunity to beat Australia will come out of one or two players batting out of their skins like Gibbs at the Wanderers or Collingwood in Australia or Ross Taylor in New Zealand A couple of Indians will have to bat out of their skins in the series and soon if we are going to win this series.

Its all in the mind
Typically the only way to beat Australia is to be mentally strong. Few people have had this virtue. Stephen Fleming comes to mind readily. Michael Vaughn was an outstanding competitor in the Ashes series in 2005 and had the better of Ricky Ponting. Saurav Ganguly got the better of Steve Waugh and much earlier the abrasive Arjuna Ranatunga brought Australia down a peg or two. Sadly most other captains and teams have been found wanting. And when Australia gets a chance to dominate a player whether it is Atherton or Cullinan then they do so quickly. How often have opposing teams got the opportunity to dominate an Australian player and keep him on the ground? Dhoni has a refreshing look about his demeanour and captaincy and there are lots of new players in the current team who have not been mentally scarred by the Australians by past defeats at their hands. Now is the chance for us to land a few blows otherwise it could be downhill all the way not only in this series but right through the cricketing season where we have so many games to play against the same team. I wish people who fixed this schedule had a little more sense.

P.S.: We have just made it at Chandigarh the old fashioned way. Put up a big score and watch the opposition struggle. I just hope that is the beginning of an era where we regularly beat the Australians. Congrats India!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)


Sameer said...

Its great that India has now opened its account in the series. But i feel there were serious issues i had with Dhoni's captaincy. I felt that Dhoni should have brought on Murali Karthik as soon as Ponting had come on to bat so as to build pressure on him. At that time both RP Singh and Zaheer khan were struggling to bowl proper line and length.

I have always admired the Australian cricket team for their passion to win. Be it under Allan Border, or Mark taylor, Steve Waugh and now Ricky Ponting. They have always played to win(even in test matches, whereas many other teams at some point of a match starts believing that a result is not possible, and this is where negativity sets in). I still remember Australia's loss to Pakistan in the 1999 world cup, and the way they came back and won the series. Similarly in the 2003 world cup, they were already without Michael Bevan (who had suffered an injury in the VB series just prior to the WC), they got the news that Shane Warne has been banned. Now they were without their two main players in the tournament. Australia were reeling on 54-3, when Andrew Symonds played a gem of a knock to rescue them. It was the belief of the Australian team in Symonds which paid off, otherwise he didn’t have much to boast of before the world cup.

If you analyse Australia's previous chases, Mathew Hayden is not a finisher. He perishes many times half way. This happened in the just concluded 20-20, and also few occasions before. He is a kind of batsman who feels the pressure while chasing.

I am sure Brad haddin will be back in the team for the Vadodara one dayer and replace Brad Hodge.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Interesting comments about the Australian cricket team.I agree with your views about finishing,Hussey being around would have made a big difference.I do suppose it is difficult for the opening batsman to stay right till the end as well given the fact that there is so much talent to follow.
The next couple of games should be interesting.

Ram said...

The Australian team of today is still the number one team in the world. But the gap between then and the other top teams is definitely narrowing. They are losing more matches these days than ever before. When they play worldcups they some how raise the bar. But I feel Magraths absence makes the team weaker.
The aussie batsmen are very good at hitting through the line and that is always going to work on flat wickets and without slip fieldsmen. Also because of their brute strength even their mishits go over the fence given the short boundaries. Currently India has only Dhoni and yuvi who can hit a really long ball in the Indian team. Uttapa seems a good improviser by chipping down the track and altering the length. Out of the big three dravid is too correct a player( therefore cant miss the fielders) and doesn’t have enough upper body strength to bludgeon the ball. Ganguly still remains a sweet timer but is poor in rotating the strike. The less said about tendulkar the better. His innings at chandigarh was one of his worst and he made the opening bowlers look unplayable.The selectors seem to have different yardsticks for the stars. Why should a player like powar be made to sit out after bowling just twelve overs in two matches. In the second match his runs per over were exactly similar to bhajjis and both had no wickets. Piyush chawla would have been very useful against Australia. Even Kevin Peterson had huge problems picking his wrongone. A wrist spinner is far more difficult to hit through the line. The Five bowlers strategy is a very dicey one and we could be caught napping especially while chasing. Although my gutfeel is India is going to win the vadodara match even if they have to chase. Fingers crossed!