Aware of the stiff challenge awaiting them in the upcoming Test series, Australia captain Steve Smith on Tuesday said winning in India will go down as the ‘best time of life’ for the players of his team. India and Australia will engage in a four-Test series, beginning in Pune from February 23.
“It’s a great challenge to play here in India. We know if we can pull something off and win a series here, we can look back at it in 10-20 years as some of the best times in our life. It’s a great occasion to play here in India,” said Smith at his first media conference after arriving Mumbai.
Australia, who are yet to win a Test in India since upsetting the hosts 2-1 in the best-of-three rubber way back in 2004-05, will commence their tour with a three-day warm-up game here against an India A squad.
“This is going to be a difficult tour and I am excited by that challenge. All of us are excited about what’s to come in the next six weeks,” said the 27-year-old Smith, who is no stranger to Indian conditions after taking part in the Indian Premier League on a regular basis over the last few years.
India have not lost a Test series at home since losing to England in 2012 and have recroded comprehensive wins over Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England.
Team coach Darren Lehmann, who is also quite familiar with the conditions in India having coached a few IPL sides in the past, concurred with Smith about the difficulties of taking on India at home.
“The preparations have been good. It’s an exciting tour and India are a quality side with some quality fast bowlers along with spinners. They have not lost in 20 Test matches at home and we know they are a quality side. It’s a great challenge,” said Lehmann.
Australia had prepared for some time in Dubai before reaching Mumbai yesterday, and Smith said they had tried to play in conditions similar to what they will experience.
“Boys have been in Dubai for some time now preparing on good wickets, challenging themselves. We have prepared very well and are ready to go,” he said.
“We are excited about the tour and know it’s going to be difficult. India are a very good team, particularly in home conditions. There’s a tour match (from February 17-19 at CCI). All the boys have been working hard, formulating good game plans and hopefully will have a successful series,” he added.
Smith said the Aussies are working hard to come up with ways to stop the incredible run-spree of India skipper Virat Kohli.
“We are trying to form a game plan but I am not telling you. He’s a world class player and has been batting very well. He’s scored four double centuries in the last four series. He’s a big player for India along with the others. They have a strong top six and hopefully we can stop them,” he said.
Kohli’s phenomenal form with the bat has seen him scoring 1,457 runs in 13 Tests going back to India’s tour of the West Indies last year at an average of a shade over 80 per innings.
Smith said his batsmen will do well to have a good mix of offence and defence as the situation demanded.
“Batting in Test cricket is about making good decisions and doing it for long periods of time. In Dubai, the balls were turning and there was uneven bounce too. The boys have got game plans. They have worked hard to find what works for them. Now it’s about implementing them and doing that for long periods of time,” he said.
“We don’t want to change their natural game as it’s important to be positive and look to score. The moment you start defending then you are in trouble. But it’s important to defend too as ultimately defence helps you in trouble.
“They (India) have some great fast bowlers too apart from spin bowlers who can bowl well with the new ball and also reverse the old. Defence is going to be incredibly important for us with the bat,” he said.
Conceding Ashwin to be a major threat, Smith said they have formulated game plans to counter the premier Indian spinner who became the fastest to reach 250 wickets in Test cricket during the 208-run win over Bangladesh in Hyderabad in the one-off game that ended on Monday.
“Look all our batters will have game plans to try and counter him. He’s a world class bowler and among the fastest to complete 250 Test wickets just a couple of days ago. We know he’s going to be difficult to face, but guys are going to formulate plans and hopefully they are going to get him out of the game as much as possible.”
The Aussies had roped in former Tamil Nadu spinner Sridharan Sriram and ex-England left arm spinner Monty Panesar to give them tips on how to play in India.
Lehmann, while saying they had got tips from these two former players, also mentioned the Indian fast bowlers as a difficult proposition to face in their home conditions.
“We have taken the advice of Monty and Sriram on how to play the Indian spinners but they (India) also have some quality fast bowlers too,” he said.
About his team’s bowling attack, Smith was happy it has the right mix and singled out Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc as the two bowlers who reverse swing the ball well.
“I have a good mix of bowlers. The guys have been working hard and learning to adapt to ways to bowl in these conditions. It’s totally different to back home in Australia.
“It’s important here to make sure you bowl in consistent areas and learn to use natural variations in the wickets. It’s a big series and hopefully the guys can build up enough pressure, get balls in the right areas and get rewards,” he said.
“Reverse swing is incredibly important. Josh Hazlewood and Mitch Starc are very good reverse swing bowlers. Starc is a big player for us. We saw how well he did on slow wickets in Sri Lanka, with reverse swing and new ball as well. No doubt he’s a dangerous player for us.
“India have some incredibly good batters and they (bowlers) are very excited about the challenge,” he added.
Smith, who has taken over the mantle of captaincy from Michael Clarke, said he was slowly learning the intricacies of the job and the stint in Sri Lanka last year, where they were blaned 3-0, helped him in this endeavour.
“For me it’s about understanding different times in the game to attack or defend, to try and keep things tight and when you get a sniff, go for it. Captaincy in India is about knowing the right period – when to take the foot off the pedal and when to attack. I think I learnt that in Sri Lanka.
“I have learnt a fair bit on the way. You probably learn more from losing than in winning. It has been a roller-coaster ride last year with regards to the result. This team has come a long way,” he said.
“Obviously I have played there quite a bit and I know that place quite well although I have not played a Test match. It’s going to be different. Still it will be quite nice to get out there and hopefully I can spend a lot more time in the middle out there,” he said about the opening game in Pune which is hosting the first-ever Test.