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  • Writer's pictureSportFM

Australia should look to 2004 for India inspiration

John Townsend

India have lost two Tests and no series at home in the past decade.

That record expands to just two lost series and 11 individual Test defeats this century.

If Australia are going to overcome the strongest home advantage in world cricket when they play in India next month, they need to find both the bowling attack and method to do it.

And based on their final day frustrations at the SCG, when Nathan Lyon had his worst day of the summer and Ashton Agar undermined his uncertain seeding as Australia’s second spinner, that approach may be through seam rather than spin.

That was the case in 2004, the last victory in India, when Australia abandoned their questionable flirtation with spin and focused on the elements that marked their best cricket.

Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz were the stars on that tour, highly-skilled pacemen who bowled with great discipline and patience to wear down the Indian batsmen.

Their ability to maintain a consistent straight line, often with 4-5 fields to frustrate and restrict the Indian stroke makers, was the key plank in the 2-1 win.

Shane Warne was considered the potential matchwinner before that tour, much as Lyon will be next month, but the reality was that team success required the champion leggie to swallow his ego and contribute in an understated fashion rare for him.

It was as much a leadership victory for Adam Gilchrist and John Buchanan in winning Warne to the cause as it was in conquering Sachin Tendulkar and his colleagues.

Lyon may be more comfortable than Warne in an off-Broadway role but something needs to change for him to have an impact in India.

His personal return there is outstanding with 15 wickets in his first series in 2013 and 19 in the other four years later, but he has only played in only one win in those seven appearances and has surrendered a career-high 3.5 runs an over there.

For Australia to win in India, they need Lyon to either take wickets at more critical times or give away fewer runs. Both would be ideal.

The rigidity in Lyon’s thinking, and the flip side of his extraordinary control, was evident at the SCG where he repeatedly landed the ball on the best part of the pitch and was reluctant to bowl into the rough – whether outside the left-handers’ leg-stump or right-handers’ off-stump - in a bid to threaten the stumps and pads with sharp turn.

Go to any Warne highlight reel and the staples have one thing in common – whether the Mike Gatting Ball of the Century or Shiv Chanderpaul being castled or his 700th wicket at the MCG – which is balls spinning sharply from outside the stumps.

Travis Head did that at the SCG and appeared the most dangerous of the spinners because of it, but neither Lyon nor Agar appeared willing to follow suit.

Agar had every right to be nervous and underprepared given it was his first Test in more than five years, and his third first-class match in nearly two, but his inability to group deliveries in the same spot on the pitch meant he could not build sufficient pressure to challenge the Proteas.

There will be a distinct challenge for him in in India if 1. he travels, 2. he plays and 3. his role is to bowl dry to complement the rest of the attack.

If he is in Australia’s plans, maybe he could be excused from Scorchers duties over the next few weeks and sent back to University to get some longer-form bowling under his belt.

Given that India have as much strength in their pace bowling as their spin ranks, it is possible that the four-Test series will be played on surfaces that don’t turn square from ball one.

If that is the case, Australia may be better off bowling their three world-class quicks, using Lyon for the donkey work and calling on their part-timers for occasional variety.

It worked well enough in 2004. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work again?

And another thing …

The Matt Short whose remarkable unbeaten century underpinned the Strikers’ recent record BBL chase is also the Matt Short averaging 14 for Victoria in Sheffield Shield ranks this season. Given the lack of seniority in Victoria’s ranks, what would coach Chris Rogers give to see more of the former Short when the shield competition restarts next month?



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