The Virat Kohli-led Indian team has a “very good chance” of beating hosts Australia in all three formats – ODIs, T20Is, and Tests – in the encounters beginning on November 27 in Sydney with an ODI, says former India batsman VVS Laxman.
The Hyderabadi, who revelled playing in Australia and piled up 1,236 runs at 44.14 in 15 Tests with four centuries and four half-centuries, says the fast bowlers in particular would have to remain fit and fresh all the time to win, especially when the third and fourth Tests approach in January.
The last time India toured Australia, in 2018-19, they registered their first-ever win over Australia on their own soil, in 71 years and in the 12th attempt since the first series was played in Australia in 1947-48. Kohli’s team also won the ODI series 2-1.
Excerpts from the interview with IANS:
Q: How do you see India’s tour of Australia panning out, considering the players have recently finished a long Indian Premier League and have moved from the United Arab Emirates to Australia, bubble-to-bubble? Would they be fatigued?
A: I think India has a very good change (of winning series) in all three formats. It’s good the way the itinerary has been planned; it works in India’s favour. The reason is that we are starting off with white-ball cricket (three-match ODI series and three T20Is from November 27).
IPL is at par with any international tournament, for the kind of competition you see and of quality players you play with or against. So, all the players are in excellent nick and rhythm, and I am sure that it will suit them instead of them being rusty. I think that will only benefit. Yeah, the workload can be an issue, but I feel that it should not affect the players because there has been a long gap now (of 16 days between the IPL final and the first ODI on November 27), even though the players have gone from one bubble to another. I am also sure that they are recovering well, and the team management and the coaching/support staff are planning in a very professional manner so that all the players are fresh, come the first match.
There’s definitely a challenge going from one bubble to another bubble. But with my experience during the IPL (he was mentor of SunRisers Hyderabad) the players were actually feeling privileged and blessed that they were part of a very secure bubble where they could move very freely within the bubble, while the entire world was struggling with Covid, when there is so much uncertainty. I think the players also know they are lucky doing something they love doing and they are lucky to play the game of cricket instead of sitting at home. So, I don’t think psychologically the players will fail to adjust to another bubble. But it’s going to be a challenge as the tour progresses, especially by the time the third (January 7) and the fourth Test (January 15) starts. That is where the coaching staff has to be very smart in making sure that the players are fresh and don’t get jaded. But I don’t see any issue at the start of the tour and the first two Tests.
Q: When you say you don’t see any issue at the start of the tour you feel that the players won’t be tired after playing in the 53-day IPL?
A: Not at all, because all the players are professionals and they have worked a lot on their fitness. Even though it was almost a two-month long tournament, all the franchises made sure that they gave enough rest to the players so that they were fresh for the matches. And the good thing playing the IPL in the UAE was that the players didn’t have to travel too much because matches were confined to Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi, and it was just a bus drive away. Suppose you had played the IPL in India the players would have been more tired because of all the flights and check-ins and check-outs and stuff. So, I don’t think they would be feeling tired or jaded.
Q: Coming to India’s itinerary in Australia, you said you are happy with it – ODIs, then T20Is, and lastly Tests. From your experience – and since you were a longer format specialist who also played in the shorter format – would it have been better if Tests were to be played first, then ODIs, and then T20Is?
A: No, it’s the other way round. During my playing days, when we travelled overseas we all felt it was better to start with white- ball cricket so that you got acclimatised to the weather, to the conditions, because in white-ball cricket the conditions wouldn’t be as challenging as you would find in Test match cricket. So, by the time the Test matches start all the players would have got used to all the conditions — the pitch and ground conditions — and they will find rhythm in those conditions. But if you straightaway play Test matches then you would invariably get challenging conditions in the first match. And it’s always very difficult to get used to those conditions.
Q: Since you are from the previous generation and the current players are obviously much younger to you, do you feel these players would also feel the same way – shorter formats first and then Tests?
A: I am sure this generation would feel that way, especially since T20 cricket has started. What happens is that once you do well in white-ball cricket, you carry that confidence into Test match cricket. The only adjustment they will have to make, when the Test matches start, is the mental adjustment — of showing more patience, from the mind-set point of view.
Q: Are you happy with the competition of the three Indian squads – for T20Is, ODIs, and Tests?
A: Absolutely. I think we are very fortunate that we have such a wonderful strength, not only in just one, but all three formats. I think the balance, and the composition, and the competition in all three formats is excellent. I think all the bases have been covered.
Q: Since India did not do too well in their previous international series, against New Zealand, before the Covid break, do you feel the results (0-2 defeat in two-Test series and 0-3 loss in three-ODI series) would be lingering in the minds of players who played on that tour?
A: I don’t think that will affect because when you play professional sport, I believe that you always learn from the setbacks you have instead of just being in the past. All these players would definitely be disappointed with the way the series panned out in New Zealand, but I am sure they would learn from that and would get better with that experience, and would not think too much about that.
I feel the players would be really confident keeping in mind what happened in Australia the last time around, in 2017-18 — we won the one-day and the Test series (the first ever Test win in Australia in the 12th attempt in over 71 years). That confidence and approach, which was very positive — both from point of views of the mindset and body language — I am sure that all players would stick to the same mindset that gave them success the last time around in Australia.
Q: And the captain is the same (Virat Kohli) who led the team the last time, a positive captain.
A: Virat has been a fantastic captain. He will be missing three Test matches. But I think it will be an opportunity for some youngster or some other player to step up and prove his credentials because there’s no doubt that Kohli’s absence will affect the Indian team. But at the same time it will be an opportunity for a youngster or some other batsman to show what his calibre is and become a hero for the team. It’s because when you perform in places like England, Australia or South Africa, your reputation in the game is enhanced, as well as your confidence level, so far your game is concerned, will definitely grow.
Q: Who, ideally, should replace Kohli in the XI when he leaves after the first Test?
A: Well, there are options available in the squad. There are a lot of quality players. Since the Test matches are going to be held only in late December, I think the coaching staff and the team management will see which player is doing well. They would also probably see the form of players in the ODI and T2I0 series, besides the way they have been playing in the nets. Whoever is in form and is looking positive — that is, mind-set and body language — will seize the opportunity, and I am sure there are enough players in the squad.
There is Hanuma Vihari and (uncapped) Shubman Gill in the Test squad.
Vihari is already an established player and has done well in the opportunities he has got (552 runs at 36.00 in nine Tests since 2018). Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are the two experienced batsmen. There is enough quality in that squad. Whoever will look good in nets sessions, whoever is hitting the ball well, and maybe the practice match (vs Australia A from December 11-13 in Sydney), I am sure the team management will take the right call.
Q: What would you say particularly on the workload of the seven players are common in the three squads — Kohli, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, and Navdeep Saini — who have played the IPL and are also earmarked for T20Is and ODIs, besides the Tests?
A: As far as batsmen are concerned I don’t think workload will be a major issue. But we will have to ensure that the fast bowling unit remains fresh because one of the reasons why we won in Australia the last time was because out fast bowling unit put a lot of pressure on the Australian unit (Bumrah, Shami, and Ishant Sharma captured 50 of 70 wickets to fall, a whopping 71.43 per cent). So, it is very important to look after the workload and the fitness of the fast bowlers. As far as the spinners and the batsmen are concerned, I don’t think workload matters a lot.
Q: Looking at these seven players’ workload and considering they recently played in the IPL, would you suggest or advocate a rotation policy for these seven, except for the captain since he has to play?
A: Again, it depends on how especially the fast bowlers are feeling. If they are fit and fresh, I would play the strongest side against Australia because playing Australia in Australia is always a challenge and you want to play your best team to beat them. And I think that would be the goal of the Indian team — to win the series in all three formats. I would always suggest playing the best team against them in their own backyard.
Q: Would you like to see two spinners play in the XI in Test matches?
A: It totally depends on the conditions that the team will confront. The Indian team has the luxury of having variations in the bowling attack. There are world class spinners, and also we have got fast bowlers. So, the team management will choose the best bowling combination based on the conditions they will get. It is too premature to say what combination would be ideal. With both these combinations, the Indian team would do well because we have got quality bowlers at their disposal.
Q: Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been picked only in the Test squad. Looking at his performance and form in the IPL, do you feel he should have been picked for one of the shorter formats as well, if not both?
A: It’s tough to talk about selection. But Ashwin is a quality bowler and I am sure he will be looking to do well in the Test series.
Q: Your overall experience of playing in Australia?
A: I always feel that Australia is one of the best places to play Test cricket and although this time the circumstances will be totally different, keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic. But once you get used to those surfaces as a batsman you get value for your shots, and trust the pace and bounce of the pitch and play your natural game. But to beat Australia in Australia I have always felt that you have to be at your best and positive in your mindset. It is because one thing is sure: nothing is going to be easy when you play them in their own backward. So, you have to mentally tough and positive, just like India did the last time.
Q: For many years, Australians are known for talking on the field — sometimes it is called sledging, sometimes it is called banter. Do you think this Indian team is up to it?
A: Oh, yeah, yeah. There is no doubt about it. This team is quite aggressive. Every team has got its own character. Australians have always played the game the hard way, and that’s the beauty of playing them at the international level because you are going to get a highly competitive series. This gamesmanship is part of that battle against the Australians. I thoroughly enjoyed that in my career and I think this Indian team enjoys taking them on. They will also be very aggressive. But ultimately you have to be smart and clever to know that nothing should affect your performance and that nothing should distract you and make you lose your focus. I am sure that the current Indian team is very professional and smart, which will give them the best chance to beat the Australians.
Q: What do you have to say about paternity leave? (Kohli will return to India after the first Test to be with his wife who is expecting their first child in January)
A: I remember myself missing a couple of Ranji Trophy matches to be with my wife for the delivery of my daughter. It is a very important feeling, especially when you are going to get your first child. I believe you have to respect that. Yes, ultimately you are a professional cricketer but you are also a family man, and you also respect what is good for your family and what is good for your family. So, I believe we have to respect that decision. It is a very important phase of your life.