Travis Head kept India at bay on Day 2 of the first Test in Adelaide, after Australia’s top order collapsed thanks to some accurate bowling from the Indians.
Playing at his home ground, Head reached stumps at 61 not out, guiding Australia to 191/7 after India made 250.
India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took three wickets, bowling beautifully to answer concerns about his suitability for Australian conditions, while pacers Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah picked two wickets each.
Australia were 126/7 – the same score India were on Thursday before Ashwin joined centurion Cheteshwar Pujara for a 62-run partnership, and Head and Pat Cummins produced something similar to lead the hosts’ fightback, making exactly 50 together before Cummins misjudged a leave and fell LBW to Bumrah.
Earlier, Aaron Finch was bowled for a duck and debutant Marcus Harris went after scoring 26, while Shaun Marsh became the first Australian top-six batsman to record six consecutive single-digit scores since 1888. Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb failed to convert good starts, while captain Tim Paine fell for just five.
Virat Kohli scored 692 runs in the 2014/15 Test series in Australia. The Indians lost 2-0. Kohli scored 286 runs in the three match Test series in South Africa in the beginning of this year – the most in the series – but ended up losing the clash 2-1.
Kohli amassed 593 runs in the five-match Test series in England this year, nearly 250 more than the next best but saw India go down 4-1. In the 2016/17 home series against Australia, Kohli managed a paltry 46 runs from three Tests. India won that encounter 2-1.
Coincidence? Maybe. But it does paint a peculiar picture of India relying entirely on Kohli for tough runs when he is in the team but also managing to do well when he does not fire. Just to illustrate the point, India played the Asia Cup 50-over tournament against Asian heavyweights in UAE in September without Kohli and were unbeaten in the tournament.
During India’s tour of England in the summer, reports came of England’s bowlers not getting too worried about dismissing Kohli cheaply. Yes they tried to get him out but concentrated on getting the rest of the 10 batsmen out cheaply and in the process kept their noses ahead of India in a series of close margins. For England, it was a collective effort from the likes of Jos Buttler, Sam Curran while for India, it was Kohli or bust.
So what can the Australians learn from this? They can either burn the midnight oil in trying to stop the Kohli run machine or focus on other aspects of the game.
However, looking at the news cycle from Australia, every Aussie cricketer and his or her mum has devised a strategy to stop Kohli. Bowl full outside off, don’t overdo the short stuff, don’t get into a fight with him, don’t drift on to the pads, sing a lullaby, misplace his room keys… there have been no shortage of strategies to combat Kohli.
But why bother? Why not just let nature take its course and keep the rest of the Indian batting line-up quiet? Of late when Kohli scores, other Indian batsmen somehow go into their shell and don’t score enough. Maybe it’s because they think Kohli is doing the job for the team and don’t push that much harder. His runs probably act as a cushion for batsmen to take that much longer to get going. This might not be the case but recent results suggest an on-song Kohli hasn’t translated to success for the team away from home.
It might seem outlandish to suggest that Australia should not worry too much if Kohli scores. On flat Australian wickets, he might score 200 in a day and that would put Tim Paine’s side out of contention. But he will need support from the other end and if the Aussies can concentrate on cutting that ‘oxygen supply’ to Kohli, he would be left fighting on both fronts and a team can only go so far on one man’s shoulder, as England proved at home, in a long series.
Australia are not in a good space of mind at the moment. It’s their first full home series since the ‘sandpapergate’ in South Africa and their main aim, along with winning, is to regain the trust of the Australian public. Seeing Kohli walk out to his beloved Australian arenas and pile on the runs can be dispiriting.
But Test cricket is fought between 11 players on both sides. If Kohli piles on the runs, that should not mean ‘the end’ for Australia. In fact, it might just be a case Australia channeling their resources on keeping other Indian batsmen quiet over eight innings and attacking India’s bowling. Let Kohli have his runs, Australia can still have the Border Gavaskar Trophy.
Top-ranked India are seen as the favourites in the four-match Test series against Australia which begins in Adelaide on Thursday.
The Virat Kohli-led Indians enter the series confident of registering their first-ever Test series win Down Under as Australia are without the banned duo of Steve Smith and David Warner.
But series defeats in South Africa and England in 2018 mean India will have some doubts in their mind as they take to the field.
Here we take a look at a couple of key tactics for India as they aim to hit the ground running.
PLAY LYON CAUTIOUSLY
India’s batsmen must have gone through hours of footage of Australian quicks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Everyone knows what they will bowl – fast, short and with movement off the pitch. For the No1 Test team, surviving the pace barrage will be top priority. But equally important will be not giving wickets to off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
The off-spinner was the highest wicket taker on either side – with 23 scalps – when the Aussies won 2-0 at home in 2014/15. The classical off-spinner bowls with a lot of overspin and gets extra bounce. Plus, he bowls outside the off stump, drawing the batsmen out more than say Ravi Ashwin.
India might be tempted to go after Lyon once the quicks are out of the way but they should rather look to play him off the back foot with soft hands and into the on-side to make sure he doesn’t end up with ‘cheap’ wickets. It might be boring but at least until the majority of the Indian batting starts to fire, they should hold back on attacking Lyon.
DON’T BOWL TOO STRAIGHT
India’s fast bowlers made life difficult for batsmen during the tours of South Africa and England earlier in the year. But the spicy wickets had a lot to do with it. India’s pacers swung and seamed the ball all day across every day of play. That is unprecedented over an eight Test period.
However, the Kookaburra ball and hard Australian pitches are unlikely to aid swing and seam for long, if at all. Bowling full and straight worked brilliantly for Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma – to a degree – earlier in the year but that is unlikely to work Down Under.
Jasprit Bumrah is the only bowler in the team who has the pace and natural length to get the ball to kick off the surface in Australia. The rest of the pacers will have to focus on bowling outside off stump and induce false strokes. Short balls directed at the armpits are another good ploy but those have to be extra effort balls.