Mild start to rivalry as Aussies touch down

14 February 2017

Australia's Test squad touched down in Mumbai as the calm before the storm continued at the dignified Cricket Club of India

The only genuine surprise of Australia's first formal skirmish of their two-month Test campaign in India was that it happened on an unusually, almost unnervingly temperate day in normally stifling Mumbai.

Indeed, the air of polite coolness that settled over Back Bay and Chowpatty Beach seeped into this morning's pre-series media conference held by captain Steve Smith and coach Darren Lehmann at the poignantly dignified Cricket Club of India.

The direct historic link to India's cricket evolution and colonial past hearing queries on matters as benign as the starting XI Australia might take into their sole warm-up fixture at the venue starting Friday.

Highlights: Australia intra-squad match, day two

About the tourists' blueprint to quell India's sublimely productive captain Virat Kohli ("We're trying to form a game plan but I'm not going to tell you what it is" was Smith's flat-bat response).

And the impact that the footmarks created on Test pitches at Pune, Bengaluru, Ranchi and Dharamsala by Australia's left-arm fast-bowler Mitchell Starc might yield for their sole established international spinner, Nathan Lyon.

Quick Single: Aussies in India: the form guide

The only hint of touchpaper being torched ahead of the opening contest between rivals who have seen some incendiary encounters in the recent past came when Smith was queried about the likelihood of some verbal outbursts from his men who arrived in Mumbai last night as overwhelming underdogs.

But even that was effectively smothered by Smith, who outsourced responsibility for implementing a tactic that has already brought counsel to the contrary from former Test batter Michael Hussey to individuals' discretion and the situation of a match.

And possibly the ambient conditions, that are about as likely to remain as autumnally pleasant as Mumbai was today as the Qantas Tour of India will stay a flashpoint-free zone.

Mike Hussey's sweep shot masterclass

"I think each of our individuals play the way that they play," Smith said invoking his inner-diplomat.

"If they want to get into a battle verbally, and that gets the best out of them then go for it.

"It's all about us making sure that us as individuals are in the right mind set to go out and succeed.

"In the end it's about us playing on skill and making sure that our skills are in the best place for us to succeed in these conditions."

Quick Single: Starc's whole new ball game in India

The conditions Australia will likely confront when their tour match against an India A team lead by hard-hitting ODI and T20I capped batter Hardik Pandya begins in three days were also demonstrably dissimilar to those expected for the subsequent four Tests.

A lush, green centre wicket block at Brabourne Stadium, home of the CCI, that suggests it might be the seamers who provide a greater challenge for Australia batsmen expecting trial by spin.


Lehmann indicated a decision on whether new-ball pair Starc and Josh Hazlewood as well as auxiliary seamer Jackson Bird fronted for that dress rehearsal would be made once their recovery from a couple of hefty workouts in Dubai last week is established.

As will a call, to be made in consultation with Smith and interim selection chair Trevor Hohns who arrives in Mumbai in the coming days, on whether the fact the tour match is an official first-class fixture (and therefore can't feature a rotation of players) means Australia will field their preferred Test XI for Pune starting February 23.

Quick Single: Agar impresses again in practice match

Pandya, yet to play a Test at age 23, was today retained in India's hefty 16-man squad for the first two matches at Pune and Bengaluru, a squad that also includes left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav who was to play in this week's tour match in Mumbai.

The 22-year-old has yet to represent India in Test or limited-overs cricket, but his elevation might be prompted by the success of Sri Lanka's similarly uncapped 'chinaman' bowler Lakshan Sandakan who bamboozled the Australians in his debut Test at Pallekele last year.

We're better for Dubai experience: Swepson

Given that Australia has scored just one Test series triumph in almost 50 years – the ground-breaking success of 2004 that has since appeared increasingly as an aberration – it's understandable that neither coach nor captain wanted to talk specifics when asked how that trend might be bucked.

"We're not focusing too much on the results, it's just getting into the game and playing as well as we can," Lehmann said.

Quick Single: Swepson holds element of surprise for Aussies

"For us to start well is a key, in the first Test in Pune.

"And starting here with the tour game as well.

"Preparation has been good, really happy with where all the lads are at and now it's a case of going to play."

That preparation was concentrated into a week of work at the ICC Cricket Academy in Dubai, where batters were asked to formulate plans to score and survive against relentlessly accurate spin bowling in conditions conducive to the craft.

And bowlers implemented the advice passed on by spin specialists Sriram Sridharan (ex-India) and Monty Panesar (former England Test bowler), as well as current Bupa Support Team Assistant Coach David Saker who was England's bowling guru when Alastair Cook's team (including Panesar) completed a rare series win on the subcontinent in 2012.

Quick Single: McGrath's memo for Aussie quicks

Smith said the practice nets and centre-wicket pitches on which his team prepared in Dubai enabled sharp turn and inconsistent bounce, although it seems unlikely that India will roll out 'rank turners' when the Test pitches are unveiled over the coming weeks.

McGrath's tips for the quicks in India

But perhaps in keeping with the day, the Australia captain conceded that it would be his batters' capacity to defend their wickets rather than take the game to their opposition bowlers that would ultimately decide this series.

In terrain where India has not been defeated in their past 20 Test matches – since Cook's men upset them at Kolkata in December 2012.

Quick Single: Williamson's advice for Aussies in India

"Guys were able to try and find the best way to hopefully have success here in India, it's so foreign to what we get back home," Smith said of the squad's focus during their Dubai training camp.

"You don't really want people to change their natural games, it's always important to be positive and look to score.

"The moment you start defending you're probably in trouble.

"But ultimately your defence is what helps you out when you're in trouble and it's going to be important that our defences are strong.

"Against not only the spin bowlers of India, but they've got some great fast bowlers as well who can present a good seam, swing the ball and bowl very good reverse (swing)."

Regardless of the short-term forecast, the heat will surely rise on Australia's touring party from the end of this week.

About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.