Former Australia test captain and India coach Greg Chapell said that Australia have a better chance of winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, since the injury-induced absence of key players like Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, and Jasprit Bumrah have made the team “vulnerable”.
In a column he wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald titled ‘How test cricket in India is the ultimate game of chess’, Chappell pointed out the size of the task to successfully navigate test cricket in India – Australia have not won a test series in India since 2004, and haven’t beaten India in an away test since 2015.
Chappell listed the areas which Australia will have to execute well in order to be able to win the series. The first and foremost, was taking wickets with the new ball. “Partnerships are the key, so they must prevent India from building them. To win, Australia must get wickets with the new ball,” he said. “As the ball gets softer, they must bowl frugally and then reverse-swing the old ball.”
Much of the buildup has been dominated by spin-friendly pitches that are likely to be curated by India for the series. Chappell said that regardless of the conditions, Australia must play their four best bowlers alongside allrounder Cameron Green, whose absence in the first test due to injury will make the selection of the second spinner, in addition to Nathan Lyon, crucial.
“On good batting wickets, Mitch Swepson should be the choice. Should the pitches favour spin, which is more likely, I expect Ashton Agar to get the nod because finger spin is considered to be more accurate,” he said.
For Lyon, undoubtedly one of Australia’s most crucial players on the turners in India, Chappell advised him to follow in the footsteps of “arguably the best off-spinner of all-time” Erapalli Prasanna, whose brain Chappell was able to pick over dinner back in 2006.
“I asked him (Prasanna) what was his plan (for) a new batsman? He said he would spin the ball hard, try to hit him on the pads often, get him thinking about the spinning ball, and then trap him on the crease with a straight one,” he said. “As the leader of the spin attack, Nathan Lyon will need to take pages out of his book and show the way.”
Considering the spinning tracks, Chappell said catching in the slips would be critical, with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne doing well close-in to the wicket, but with others needing practice for it too. “The Indian close catchers create wickets for their spinners with their anticipation and agility which Australia will do well to replicate,” he said.
Tours to India can make or break batting careers: Chappell
Chappell highlighted the issues Australia’s batting lineup faces: David Warner’s form in India, Labuschagne being untested in the subcontinent, Smith’s new-look technique needing a test, and other concerns.
Emphasising that high totals in the first innings will be essential for Australia, he said that while chilly mornings may be good news for Australia’s pacers, the ball will stay low and slow, out of the comfort zone for much of Australia’s batting lineup.
“Hitting across the line is a risky pursuit in these conditions. Australians who are used to the extra bounce to generate pace with the bottom hand consequently struggle on the slower, lower pitches,” Chappell added, before proclaiming: “Tours to India can make or break batting careers.”
The four-test Border-Gavaskar trophy kicks off on February 9, with the first test being played in Nagpur.