India and Australia cricket
India and Australia captains Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins pose with Border Gavaskar Trophy ahead of the four-Test series, at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, in Nagpur on February 8, 2023. The first test match will start from Thursday (February 9). Image Credit: ANI

India-Australia Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy tend to be hard-fought affairs. Australia take the field in Nagpur on Thursday (February 9) in search of their first series win in India since 2004. India are in no mood to surrender, especially after two away series win in Australia. So what can we expect?

“My mindset would be, ‘How can I beat Australia 4-0 if I’m the coach’, which means day one, I want a ball to pitch on leg stump and hit off stump. I want it to rip. If someone asks me what kind of pitch? Expect that. If you lose the toss, expect the ball to turn in the first session of play. That’s what I want, and take it from there.” These are the words of former India coach Ravi Shastri.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at reading it. Simply because it encapsulates my thoughts. Shastri is blunt as usual and bang on the spot.

When spinning track is home advantage

I was amused, no doubt, particularly after reading reports in the Australian media on how the Indians are doctoring the pitch with selective watering to prey on Australia’s left-hand batsmen. Seriously?

When India prepare a turning track for its spinners, it’s pitch-doctoring. And when the Australians lay out a green top for their pacemen, all is hunky-dory. I haven’t heard anyone in the Indian media accuse the Australians of doctoring their pitches. Why’s that?

The answer is simple: It’s called home advantage. The home team has the prerogative of making pitches that suit them. It would be foolhardy of India to prepare bouncy wickets for the series.

 Pat Cummins
Australia’s captain Pat Cummins inspects the pitch during a practice session at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on February 8, 2023, on the eve of the first Test cricket match between India and Australia. Much of the focus has been on the nature of the pitch and its preparation. Image Credit: AFP

Yes, it’s happened in the past. The Nagpur pitch in the 2004 series against Australia is a good example. A lively pitch was readied for the second Test following a dispute between Vidarbha Cricket Association chief Shashank Manohar and the then-Indian cricket chief Jagmohan Dalmiya. The Australian quicks loved it, and India sank.

That’s unlikely to happen again. India have learnt the lesson after tours of Australia and England. After the overseas tours, the value of the home advantage is not lost on India.

So expect rank turners. Let the Australian batsmen show their skills in battling spin. It’s an excellent opportunity for the Australian spinners to show their quality. After all, both teams play on the same pitch.

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Turning tracks do not always guarantee a win for India. It backfired spectacularly in 2012-13 against England when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar took a combined 37 wickets for a 2-1 series win. It just goes on to show that you can win in India with top-class spinners and batting to back them.

Australia have a good spinner in Nathan Lyon, but they will need Ashton Agar or Todd Murphy to back him. Not just that. The batting needs to come good. David Warner and Steve Smith have abundant knowledge of Indian conditions, having played in the Indian Premier League regularly.

But spinning wickets are a different cup of tea. That’s why the Australian media is crying of gamesmanship even before the first ball is bowled. Part of the reason is the knowledge that Australian batsmen are inept against the turning ball. Indian batsmen are only marginally better and are prone to falling a heap. Remember how Michael Clarke’s part-time left-arm spin fetched a haul of 6/9 in 2004.

Why Cummins wants to win in India

It comes down to which team have the better spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav are a handful, even on good wickets. On turning tracks, they are deadly. They don’t need doctored pitches.

As Shastri said: Expect the ball to turn sharply right from the first session. If the Australian batsmen can handle it, they deserve to win. Captain Pat Cummins knows it. That’s why he is not subscribed to the shrill cry in the Australian media.

Cummins doesn’t want any distractions. He’s fully aware of the enormity of the task at hand. That’s why he said: “Winning a series in India is like an Ashes away series [win], but even more rare. It will be a career highlight, an era-defining series if we win out there.”

May the team with the best spinners win.