When they stepped foot onto Indian soil, not many gave them a chance. However, after two riveting Tests, Australia are in the best position among all recent visitors to do something memorable. With the four-match series locked at 1-1, the attention shifts to Ranchi for the vital third Test. A victory for them in Jharkhand’s capital will not just be a triumph of the soul but also one which will enable them to leave these shores unconquered.
The task facing Steven Smith’s men is not for the faint-hearted. From reaching the brink of an abyss, India stormed back in Bengaluru with an euphoric win and appear to have seized the momentum going forward.
Here are five things Australia need to do to take an impassable series lead at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.
#5 – Call correctly at the toss
More often than not in the subcontinent, toss tends to influence the result by setting a play in motion. Admittedly, such a theory falls flat when the visiting team borders on haplessness and does not have the necessary resources to take advantage of serendipity. Michael Clarke‘s Australian team of 2013 and more recently Alastair Cook’s England side are prime examples of the latter.
This time though, the Australians are not here to just make up the numbers. As evidenced by the first Test in Pune, they can certainly capitalize on the toss. On the contrary, India’s come back in Pune might not have been possible if they didn’t possess the opportunity to defend a total on a rapidly deteriorating surface in the fourth-innings.
Hence, it becomes highly imperative for Smith to call correctly at the toss and give Australia the best use of the pitch.
#4 – Play Glenn Maxwell in place of seam all rounder
Ahead of the Test, Australia have been jolted by the injury to pace spearhead Mitchell Starc. Aside from delivering key breakthroughs out of nowhere, his lusty lower-order hitting can get on the fielding captain’s nerves. With Mitchell Marsh’s shoulder finally giving away, two spots have opened up in the playing eleven.
If the pitch in Ranchi is typically dry, the presence of a seam all rounder could be deemed surplus to the bowling attack. The team management have a couple of options to replace Marsh. Considering Usman Khawaja‘s flawed technique against spin (even by Australian standards), Glenn Maxwell is a more prudent choice.
While Maxwell’s batting does not cut it at Test level on normal surfaces, he could be handy in bowler-friendly conditions with his quick runs expanding the team total. Adding his decent off-spin and solid fielding, the Victorian becomes a horses-for-courses player. With Pat Cummins flying in from down under, Australia seem to have found an able foil for Josh Hazlewood.
#3 – Score around three runs per over
At the end of the first day in Bengaluru, Australia could almost feel their hands wrapping over the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, the momentum slowly began to slip away right under their noses in the very next day. Even as the Indian bowlers looked intent on covering up their batting counterparts’ demise, they certainly did not help themselves by plodding along at a sedate pace.
The fact that only 197 runs were scored on the second day provided a window of opening for the hosts to step back into the ring.
Ideally, run-rates/batting strike-rates should not matter in Test cricket. But, on pitches worsening with every delivery, it becomes extremely important to take all you can get. In this regard, Australia should look to replicate their effort in the second-innings in Pune where they scored at 3.27 runs per over.
Since the likelihood of another low-scoring contest is pretty high, the visitors need to shun their newly adopted mantra of batting as long as possible and instead revert to the traditional Aussie way of attempting to score quicker than the opposition.
#2 – Strangle Indian batsmen by bowling dry
In sharp contrast to their ploy with the bat, Australia’s bowling strategy needs to be on the other end of the spectrum. The bowlers’ yearning for wickets was evident from those 40-45 minutes before lunch on the third day in Bengaluru when the Indian openers swiftly wiped off 38 runs of the deficit. Nathan Lyon went from claiming the best ever figures by a visiting bowler to going wicket-less in the space of a single day.
The key difference between the off-spinner’s performance in each innings was his approach. Unlike a measured mind instructing to hit the same spot ball after ball during the first innings, Lyon went searching for wickets and lost his rhythm in the process during the second essay.
In Ranchi, the Australian bowlers cannot afford to repeat the same mistake again. Blocking the scoring areas with precise field-placements and constantly building pressure by resorting to tight lines should force the Indian batsmen to play into their traps. Subsequently, the wickets will follow.
#1 – Keep reminding India of the things at stake
Amidst an intense battle between bat and ball, the Bengaluru Test hogged headlines for the players’ on-field antics. As with almost every other India-Australia contest, there were frequent exchanges of words which ultimately made the umpires earn their money’s worth.
With one more victory enough for Australia to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the pressure is on India who have not quite met the pre-series predictions. By persistently reminding the hosts of the things at stake, they can give themselves a better chance to clinch pressure moments.
If anything comes naturally to the Aussies, then it’s probably running their mouths off to unbearable levels and psychologically unsettling the opposition.