(This is the second of the three-part series that Aakash is writing about his experiences of preparing and playing for India in Australia on the 2003-04 tour. Here's Part 1.)
Once the groundwork — which included speaking to coaches and senior pros, watching and analysing videos of Australian bowlers, delineating my role and warming up mentally — was laid, I was set to board the flight to Melbourne, via Adelaide.
If the first phase of my research (which I dwelt upon in Part I) on Australia — how to play Australia in their own backyard, and in a contest peddled as the ‘mother of all battles’ — was exhaustive to say the least, the second phase was more hands-on.
A quick call to the cricket equipment manufacturer I was signed up with was made.
Firstly, I requested for lighter bats, since I was told that pitches in Australia were fast and bouncy, which left very little time to react. Hence, the lighter the bat, the easier it would be to adjust. I also ordered an elbow guard and an inner-thigh protector.
Since the ball was expected to bounce and deviate after pitching at the rate of knots, I was told that I’d need extra protection. I tried both, but soon felt uncomfortable and abandoned them. In fact, I even realised that lighter bats wouldn’t help either, for batting is all about synchronization of body movements and the moment you tinker with the weight of the bat, it goes awry.
Your best chance of succeeding is to stick with what has worked for you all this while, regardless of the conditions. Yes, you may have to play a few more shots with the horizontal bat but changing the weight drastically would mean sacrificing the timing.
Seasoned pros in the team did the right thing by merely adjusting the distribution of the weight—brought the weight slightly higher, without bringing the actual weight of the bat down. This is why ‘preparation’ is so important — it allows one to test, approve or reject the amends made.
WORD OF ADVICE
In India since you’re expected to play more off the front foot and the ball hits lower on the bat, most players prefer a bat with more weight towards the bottom of the bat. But when you move to places like Australia and South Africa where the ball bounces a lot more, it’s better to move the sweet spot of the bat a couple of inches higher on the bat.
Next, I ordered shoes, with spikes both on the front and back. While it was okay to play in India with frontal spikes, I was advised to wear full-spike boots on Australia’s hard surfaces. The last bit was collecting the India clothing and even that rather mundane exercise wasn’t uneventful — the clothing I got was made for Gautam Gambhir. All the shirts, trousers, the works, had his name written on the inside). He must have been in the provisional list of players to make the cut for Australia and the team-kit provider prepared accordingly. Anyway, every item was one size too small and I requested for a new set. Till then, I was expected to make do with whatever I had.
While our final destination was Melbourne, where we were to play the first warm-up match against Victoria, our flight was routed through Adelaide. This was neither expected nor appreciated because flying from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur (four-hour stay in KL) and then to Adelaide (6-plus hours) before Melbourne was extremely tiring. Hope the current team didn’t go through the same ordeal.
TO START WITH...
We played Victoria at the MCG. The track was a bit damp on the first morning but we did what the touring team is expected to do: win the toss and bat. My innings was short, as was the memory of batting in Australia for the first time. But I distinctly remember fielding for nearly two days while Brad Hodge made our bowling look very ordinary. He scored a brilliant double century and overhauled our team total all by himself. Not the best of starts for an arduous tour. We did get to bat for a few overs on the final day and I got some runs under the belt too.
We played another warm-up game in Brisbane before the first Test at Gabba. It was a toss up between Sadagoppan Ramesh and me for the opening slot. I was tipped to get the job and felt confident about my chances of succeeding until I met a certain gentleman from India on the eve of the first Test who was everything but gentle with his choice of words to describe what he termed as my ‘weaknesses’.
He was a respected journalist from the southern part of India and dissected my batting frailties in great detail. He said that everything from my batting stance to my technique was completely wrong and that I was ill-equipped to succeed in Australia. This man, I was later told, had also advised Sir Vivian Richards to correct his ‘faulty’ batting technique!
I was told to be wary of the Australian media and refrain from reading the newspapers but that interaction made me a little wary of the entire fraternity, at least for a while.