Sachin Tendulkar has described the upcoming 2018/19 test series as being, “Possibly our best chance to go out there and beat them,” but the question is whether Tendulkar’s comments are merely Indian patriotism or if they have any validity.
It is true that Australia are worse than they were for most of Tendulkar’s career. From Tendulkar’s test debut in 1989 through to 2008 Australia went through the greatest period of dominance of any team in cricket history, eclipsing even the West Indian sides in the 1970s and 1980s, and eclipsing the Bradman era of Australian cricket from 1928 to 1948. How Tendulkar views Australian cricket from 2008 until Tendulkar’s retirement in 2013, and arguably even more since then, is that they are not the quality that Tendulkar faced in the first 19 years that he played test cricket.
Australia lost Adam Gilchrist, arguably the greatest wicket keeper ever to play the game, and, whilst Tim Paine had a great period of form when he re-entered the team last year, he is no Adam Gilchrist, along with Shane Warne, arguably Australia’s greatest ever spin bowler, two positions that simply cannot be filled, with all due respect to Nathan Lyon, who is in the form of his life right now. Not that Glenn McGrath or Matthew Hayden were bad either, and Australia also had the likes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey to rely on too. Indeed, it used to be the case that all of Australia’s top 7 had test and first class batting averages over 50 with bowlers who averaged 25 or less.
With Steve Smith, though, Australia had someone who helped to bridge the gap, providing a one-man army kind of mentality, much like Brian Lara did for West Indies, or arguably like Sachin Tendulkar did for long periods of his career. David Warner was Australia’s second-best batsman, providing some back-up, especially at home, but, beyond those two, there wasn’t really a lot to rely on. Peter Handscomb was good when he came in, but then he faded so badly that he was dropped, with a similar tale of woe for Matt Renshaw. Cameron Bancroft came in on the back of two first class centuries in a row and promptly demonstrated that he didn’t have any long-term form to fall back on. With Smith and Warner gone, Australia arguably went from a one-man band to a no-man band. Arguably the entire Australian batting line-up are not test level.
The good thing for Australia, though, is that their bowling keeps getting better and better. Since McGrath’s retirement, Australia have had fast bowler after fast bowler come in with increasingly better records. Anyone who saw Mitchell Johnson bowl against England in 2013/14 would be surprised to note that he was a fringe player, and that James Pattinson, who he replaced due to injury, had an even better record, and India could potentially be facing Pattinson at some point in this series. Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood have all spent most of their test careers ranked in the top 10 bowlers in the world, and all three will feature in this test series. It might horrify some Indian cricket fans to note that Starc is currently the worst of them, and Australia has an enormous supply of quality fast bowlers in back-up too, including Jackson Bird, Jason Behrendorff and Chadd Sayers, to name but three. While the spin bowling department is comparatively bare, in the past two or three years Nathan Lyon has improved to a level where he is now right up there with the best spin bowlers in the world.
The biggest problem for India, though, is not who they are playing against but the history that comes with this series.Since India first came to Australia in 1947/48, they have a series tally of 0 wins, 8 losses and 3 draws, while their test match return is 5 wins, 28 losses and 11 draws. In comparison, in India the record is 8 wins, 4 losses and 3 draws, with a test match return of 21 wins, 13 losses and 16 draws.
The difference between home and away between the two countries has worsened in recent years. Since 1979/80 India have won 8 home test series, losing just 1 (in 2004/05) and drawing 1 (in 1986/87) against Australia, while in Australia India have won 0 home test series, losing 5 and drawing 3 (in 1980/81, 1985/86 and 2003/04). Since 1979/80, India have won 18 home test matches, losing 5 and drawing 11, while in Australia India have won 3 tests, losing 17 and drawing 10.
The difference is so enormous between home and away between the two countries that Indians can happily and fairly predict a whitewash at home and Australians can happily and fairly predict a whitewash at their home. If we look at the four venues for this series, they are good venues for India, make no mistake about that, but that may not be enough.
The first ground is Adelaide, where, in 2014/15, India only lost by 48 runs, a match in which the banned Steve Smith scored 162* while the banned David Warner scored 145 & 102, which suggests that India could win.Adelaide is certainly a venue that is very India-like, with it being hot, dry and taking spin, and India’s batsmen might enjoy it, as Virat Kohli did last time when he scored 115 & 141, almost taking India to victory, but the problem is that, last time around, Australia only lost 12 wickets, declaring twice, first 7 wickets down and then 5 wickets down, so the actual difference between the two teams was much bigger than the 48 run margin suggests.
Just the same, Virat Kohli will be licking his lips about the prospects of batting in Adelaide while Kuldeep Yadav, if he plays, may enjoy the extra spin.The biggest problem for India is that Adelaide usually has draws, and indeed it would have been a draw in 2014/15 if Australia had not declared twice. It is often said of Adelaide Oval that a draw is always on offer if you want it, and Australia, knowing the conditions well, may just be very defensive and play for the draw from the start, which would make it very difficult for India to win.
For India to win, they are going to need to bat quickly and be prepared to declare. They may want to bat last, if they win the toss, so that they can know when to declare. A run rate of 4 per over is a minimum to enforce the victory.The other problem for India is that, while batting aggressively, they may find themselves collapsing against the likes of Pat Cummins, who may be able to enforce a collapse, like what Mitchell Johnson did back in 2013/14.
Just the same, overall I think that India’s chances of a win in Adelaide are higher than Australia’s chances, but I rate a draw the most likely result. It is perhaps a 30% chance of an Indian victory, 20% chance of an Australian victory and a 50% chance of a draw. It will be most likely more about captaincy of each team than about who is the best team.
Moving ahead to Perth, the famous WACA, Indian cricket fans may recall that they won back in 2007/08, which was the last time that India played at the WACA ground. The problem is that India aren’t playing at the WACA – instead, they are playing at the new Perth Stadium, which will be hosting its very first test match, and that probably makes it even more likely for Australia to win than it would be had they played at the WACA.
Back in 2007/08, an Indian team featuring Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni managed to defeat an Australian team with none of their regular bowlers and featuring Phil Jaques instead of the regular opener Matthew Hayden. It was a hard-fought victory, but it was hardly against Australia’s best team, especially in the bowling stakes, and this one that India will be up against will offer much bigger problems.
Things have changed a lot since then, with none of Australia’s 2007/08 WACA side available for this match, while India has just Ishant Sharma, who took 3 wickets in the match, to rely on.
I don’t see India having any chance of winning in Perth. While it is hard to know how it will behave in a test, if it offers even some of the substance of WACA grounds past then Australia’s fast bowling line up, which potentially could include James Pattinson or alternately Jackson Bird as the 4th fast bowling option, could absolutely annihilate India.My prediction for Perth is 80% chance of an Australian win, a 19% chance of an Indian win and 1% chance of a draw. I think most likely Australia will win by an innings.
Moving ahead to Melbourne, if we go back to 2014/15, Australia dominated, declaring twice for 13 wickets lost in total, while India lost 17 wickets and were still trailing by 96 runs, in this case mainly because of slow scoring rates. While Steve Smith scored another century, that doesn’t mean that with his absence Australia will suddenly lose. The ground in Melbourne is, if nothing else, very big. While Virat Kohli loved the ground with 147 last time and we can expect more of the same this time around, the others may struggle.
The MCG in theory offers a fair chance to both teams but, other than Virat Kohli, it is hard to imagine India’s batsmen really coping with the conditions they are likely to face. Melbourne is nowadays good for bowling and, again, Australia have arguably far superior bowlers to India, especially in Australian conditions, and the MCG is about as Australian as they come. The other problem is that it is often hard to score quickly at the MCG, which, combined with rain, means that if you are going to win then you probably need to declare, perhaps twice even, which is what Australia tried to do in 2014/15, but it still didn’t work.
I think India will struggle at the MCG, and in this case a draw will be a good result.My prediction is 40% chance of an Australian win, 20% chance of an Indian win and 40% chance of a draw.
Moving on to the final test in Sydney, we have Australia’s most spin-friendly ground, though the conditions will be very different to what you find in India. At the SCG it is good for fast bowlers too, and you don’t need to play that second spinner, but if you’ve got three good ones then you may as well play them. The problem with the SCG is that the advantage of winning the toss is so immense that you can almost guarantee a win as soon as you win the toss, providing that you bat first, which you always should do at the SCG. The pitch typically starts to crack up around the middle of day 3, and from there you go from high scoring to low scoring, and chasing anything above 200 is nearly impossible.
While the SCG should favour India slightly, if Australia bat first then Australia should win. While there was a draw last time around, that is very unusual at the SCG and I don’t expect a draw this time around.My prediction is 60% chance of an Indian win, 35% chance of an Australian win and 5% chance of a draw.
My prediction, therefore, on balance, is a 2-2 draw. For India to win the series, they will need to bat quickly at Adelaide and be prepared to declare, while hoping for rain in Melbourne and batting slowly to go for a draw and then, above all else, try to win the toss in Sydney. If all of that were to happen, then India could potentially win 2-1.I think that, more likely, Australia will win, either 3-0 if they draw in Adelaide and win the toss in Sydney, or 2-1 if they draw in Adelaide and lose the toss in Sydney.
I think that most likely India will lose the series, but it will be closer than in previous series.One worry for India is that in recent overseas series, other than West Indies, Virat Kohli has been a one-man army. Given how strong Australia’s bowling is and how weak India’s bowling is, other than Jasprit Bumrah and perhaps Kuldeep Yadav, they will have to have a lot more players stand up if they are to be any chance of victory.
My prediction is that India will lose, but if everything goes very well then they may draw, either 2-2 or 1-1. But there is that slither of hope that maybe, just maybe, India can win it 2-1.
But only because Steve Smith and David Warner aren’t there.
ARTICLE BY – ADRIAN MEREDITH