Should India quake in their cricket boots? Australian captain Pat Cummins, having beaten Pakistan and been held with a supreme, allround effort by Sri Lanka, said the other day how being familiar with sub-continental conditions would suit his team for meeting India in India next year and, on the face of it, this was a bit of all right. If you know a place inside out, you give yourself an advantage. Not a trace of arrogance here, and no hint at mind games, with throwaway suggestions about Rohit Sharma and his men being a cracker jack combination at home, hard to tame, let alone crush – which, of course, piles the psychological pressure on India. But “sub-continental conditions” probably connote certain things that are pejoratively coloured and therefore, worth a close look.
Everyone knows Cummins implies turning wickets and spinners’ predominance, stereotypical elements that have long perpetuated themselves as they suit home sides’ interests. Steve Waugh once went to the extent of calling it wicket-doctoring, but, earlier, when India had upset them in a home series – the one that had VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid turning things around with a great partnership at Eden Gardens – it was on good batting strips that Australia found themselves outscored, regardless of which Indian bowlers took the wickets. Also, a spinning track alone does not guarantee a spinners’ ensemble picnic. Think back to what Tony Lock did when Jim Laker ran through Australia and that comes home. But the point could be argued to be redundant when Cummins’ future-centric confidence is contrasted with current reality – assuming Australia know their own conditions adequately – which points at two successive Indian Test series triumphs Down Under.
The first time India pulled it off, it had been a pioneering achievement but the second one was unbelievably spectacular because Ajinkya Rahane led a secondstring visiting side, with injuries playing havoc, to a victory the fast bowlers did a lot to force. The moral of the story is simple enough: it is a new India that the cricket world sees today, a combination that derives a lot of its strength from its pacespin balance, coupled with good batting. The team has played a World Test Championship final and even if they lost it to New Zealand, making the final itself was better than what Australia managed. When Australia roll up in 2023 for four Tests, all attacking options will be open to India, just as Australia probably visualise a busy period for Nathan Lyon with 20 Indian wickets having to be taken in each of the matches. And if Cummins, even after the series in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, continued to be worried that some of his neophytes were unfamiliar with this country, or Asiatic specialities, his own Indian Premier League experience should be a text-book for them. He knows this land and its ways inside out.