For once, India hold the bragging rights ahead of the Australia Tests. And having won their first Test series Down Under on the previous tour in 2018-19, Glenn McGrath feels India hold “no fear coming to Australia like they used to.”
McGrath should know. When he plied his trade, between early 1990s and late 2000s, India didn’t have much to show in Australia Tests, barring the 1-1 draw in 2003-04 when McGrath didn’t play. The current team is buoyant, and the 2-1 win two years ago is regarded as Virat Kohli’s finest achievement as India skipper.
Things though are different this time. It will be India’s first international series since February and Kohli will play only the first Test, the pink-ball game in Adelaide starting December 17. He will miss the next three Tests to return home to be with wife Anushka Sharma for the birth of their first child. His absence apart, India will also face David Warner and Steve Smith, who didn’t play in the last series due to the ball-tampering ban. They will be itching to make an impact, while new star Marnus Labuschagne will be another challenge for India bowlers.
McGrath sees the challenge of Kohli’s absence as an opportunity. “It will impact the series. The player of his quality and class, for India to lose him in three out of four Tests is a big blow,” he said. “It will be for the other players to step up. I can totally understand him wanting to go back for his first child’s birth,” McGrath said in a select media interaction.
The Kohli factor
“Kohli is worth two players; one, as a batsman and two, as the captain, setting the field with his energy and attitude. Australia would want to dominate the series and level the ledger. They have Smith and Warner back.”
Kohli captaincy and batting was a big factor in India’s win last time. Another major reason was the resilience of Cheteshwar Pujara, who topped the aggregates with 521 runs in four matches, averaging 74.42.
“The thing he did so well last time was that he occupied the crease. He spent time in the middle just batting. He is a kind of batsman who doesn’t feel pressure when not scoring runs. That’s unique in the modern era where there are batsmen who would want to score runs after one maiden over. Pujara doesn’t have that mindset. That helped him last time, allowed him to get a lot of time and just compile runs,” McGrath said.
“The fact that he hasn’t spent time in the middle, hasn’t had lot of long batting time, is going to have a big impact. He will probably have to work harder this series than the last one as he hasn’t played any cricket.”
Pujara was not part of IPL. The India No.3’s last competitive match was in March, when Saurashtra beat Bengal in the Ranji Trophy final. McGrath feels a lot will depend on how the teams start the Test series, which will follow the three-match ODI and T20I series, starting November 27.
“That first Test is going to be interesting. That is a day-night Test. India haven’t played a day-night Test in Australia. At night, with the sun setting, it will probably start favouring the fast bowlers. It will be about timing, when you are bowling or batting. Virat, if he has to have an impact in the series, will have to make an impact in the only Test he is playing. That will set the tone. Two years back, the first Test win in Adelaide gave them a lot of confidence,” McGrath said.
“As far as other batsmen are concerned, Rohit Sharma is a quality batsman who hasn’t achieved at the Test level what he should be achieving. Maybe when Virat goes home, he might just step up and show what he can do. You can’t just focus on one player. You have Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul. India has a strong batting line-up.”
Aussie pacers ahead
Both teams feature top fast bowlers. Jasprit Bumrah topped the tally with 21 wickets the last time.
“In early days, Indian batsmen weren’t used to the extra pace and bounce Australian wickets had. You wouldn’t say there was real fear, but it was not something they were used to. The fear factor was more about pace and bounce. I don’t think Australian wickets have the same pace and bounce. But it’s still quicker than in India. The last series win will give them a lot of confidence.
“Umesh Yadav’s got raw pace, Mohammed Shami has great control and swings the ball both ways and Bumrah is just class. He has great mental strength. His second and third spells are just as quick as his first. You have guys who, if on fire, are tough to beat. But on a par you have Josh Hazlewood, he bowls in good areas and is tall, strong.
“Then Pat Cummins is the No.1 bowler in the world. He runs in all day, always gives 100 per cent. He gets slightly different angles because of the way he runs in. Then you have left-arm Mitchell Starc. When he gets it right, he can pick four-five wickets at a go. He has got that X-factor. If both teams are bowling at the top of their game, I would probably put Australia slightly ahead only because of the left-hander, which makes a big impact.”
“Not to take anything away from the Indian fast bowlers of the past. These guys have a slightly different mindset… The confidence of the current generation sets them apart.”
# The series will be broadcast on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3 and Sony Six from November 27