Their familiar weakness against spin has been exposed. They need to make sure it does not affect them mentally.
The mouth-watering India versus Australia Test series featured a lot of chatter about selection and pitch-doctoring in the lead-up.
The noise was exactly that in the case of the pitch. Not unexpectedly, it turned out to be nothing more than a fairly typical first-day Indian red-soil wicket. It was by no means impossible to play on, as Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith showed, but Australia failed to post a testing first-innings total.
The state of the pitch was put into perspective by the Indian captain Rohit Sharma. He played a masterful innings that displayed confidence in his own defence, his wide stroke range on a turning – but not impossible pitch – and his ironclad discipline.
Rohit’s confidence in his defence was crucial. If a player doesn’t trust his defence on Indian pitches he can easily be panicked into trying to do something that he’s not capable of, and this ends up in an embarrassing dismissal.
Not only did Rohit reveal a wide range of shots, he also frustrated the Australian bowlers with the way he only played them when the time was right. He showed all players, home and touring, how to play on Indian pitches, and his example was flawlessly followed by the much improved Ravindra Jadeja.
The move to open in Test cricket saved Rohit’s career. He looked like he might waste his enormous skill down the order but batting above Virat Kohli has prevented him being overawed by the ex-captain’s popularity. Captaincy has also played a big part in Rohit’s revival; the discipline required to lead a team has added another level to his batting.
For his part Jadeja displayed the improvement in his game in both batting and bowling. He has always had talent but now he also has the belief. To see the clever tweaks he’s made in both skills tells you that Jadeja has a high cricket intelligence.
The media making allegations about pitch-doctoring is nothing new. Players need to ignore this little game or else it has a debilitating effect on the visiting team
On the subject of pitches in India, the first thing a touring player has to realise is that he will face a lot of spin. However, he should also understand that the Indian quicker bowlers are not without skill on these surfaces. If a visiting player thinks anything else, he is badly misinformed.
The selections in this match were a mixture of brave choices and one that was a head-scratcher. The omission of Travis Head, despite his troubles against good spinners, was difficult to fathom. The choice of offspinner Todd Murphy in his first Test after only seven first-class games was brave. Nevertheless it also displayed great faith in Murphy’s skills.
Murphy was economical but also took wickets and he was unafraid to bowl a leg-stump line to contain the Indian batters. The problem was Australia’s lack of first innings runs, which meant the bowlers had to perform the most difficult of tasks: take wickets while also containing the batters.
In the end the choice Australia made, to favour economy over wicket-taking potential, quickly took its toll and India capitalised on bowlers tiring from a heavy workload.
The first Test has exposed Australia’s weakness against good spin bowling on turning pitches. If they can ensure this setback doesn’t mean their mental capacity to cope in India is not dented, it will keep them in the series. If they waver, they are in big trouble.
The media making allegations about pitch-doctoring is nothing new. Players need to ignore this little game or else it has a debilitating effect on the visiting team. Far too much emphasis is put on how pitches are going to play and on doctoring. It’s worth remembering that both teams have to play on the same pitch.
The reality is that India have developed into a very strong side all round the world, with a special feel for how to win at home. If Australia, who have a weakness against spin in India, don’t adapt to conditions quickly, they are going suffer the same fate that has befallen other visiting sides.