If you had to pick five venues around the world where an Indian cricket team was likely to struggle, your list is most likely to look like this: Headingley. Kingsmead. Wanderers. Lord’s. The WACA.
The swing and seam of Lord’s, Kingsmead and Headingley. The pace, bounce and the Bullring atmosphere at Wanderers. The mythical and unforgiving ruthlessness of the WACA. But the five do have one thing in common. In the last decade or so, India has beaten the odds and recorded wins, famous ones at that, at these venues. Headingley in 2002, the Wanderers in 2006, the WACA in 2008, Kingsmead in 2011 and Lord’s earlier this year.
Having said that the win in Leeds was fashioned by Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and the WACA was probably at its flattest when Irfan Pathan and RP Singh bowled India to victory. But the conditions that confronted India in Johannesburg, Durban and London were straight from the Go Green initiative that almost every team outside the subcontinent adopts to welcome India.
The same was the case at the Gabba on Tuesday. The green wasn’t spread across the pitch like it was at Lord’s in July. But there was enough greenery on the 22 yards to worry the Indian contingent. The pitch was the centre of attention on the Test eve with many predicting an Indian annihilation.
However, Dhoni can take comfort from a bit of history. In the past Indian batsmen might have struggled on Gabba-like tracks, but their bowlers have exploited those friendly conditions and in the bargain helping their team to memorable wins. The abundance of assistance meant S Sreesanth in Johannesburg and Ishant Sharma at Lord’s didn’t really have to bowl out of their skins. They simply had to focus on making the most of what was on offer in what turned out to be low-scoring contests with batsmen from both side failing to have a major say. So the conditions, despite being largely in favour of the hosts, in a way ended up evening out the contest.
Pace vs inexperience
In Brisbane, India’s pace attack led by Ishant and powered by Varun Aaron will be up against one of the most inexperienced batting line-ups that Australia have put up in a while. With Michael Clarke ruled out of the series, the middle-order will be made up of the Marsh brothers and new skipper Steve Smith. And the onus will be on Ishant & Co to find the right length at the Gabba and not end up failing to take advantage of the aid. For, the Gabba wicket will not be biased when it comes to offering assistance.
On Tuesday, even MS Dhoni agreed that his team’s best chance of winning Tests overseas was when ‘wickets were on the greener side’. That playing on a surface like the Gabba could in a strange way be India’s best chance.
“The reason is that our bowlers become much more effective and the batsmen will have to formulate a way to score runs on that kind of wicket. But if you see the stats we have done well on the wickets that have helped the fast bowlers. It makes our job slightly easier to get the opposition batsmen out,” he said.
At that point during the press conference, the Indian captain, looking to add the Gabba to their list of unexpected conquests, sounded more hopeful than optimistic.
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