In the debate roomsThe following was written by me in a discussion when people were wondering (quite pejoratively at times) what it would take for India to win at cricket vs. the Aussies. Harish's comments(of which I am in partial agreement) helped me write my views.
Everyone seems to be having this kind of conversation - I have one going on with my friend too.
Any team, including the Australians, can be beaten - no one is invincible and facts have proven this - so it's not merely wishful thinking or bravado when someone says this. Having established that, one needs to cast an eye on what the circumstances where like when other teams scored victories against the Aussies. The Aussies may not be invincible, but they play their own game very consistently, and at a level that other teams can match but haven't been able to sustain continuously. This means that the Aussies are going to be successful on most occasions. It still does leave some room for a Test nation to beat the Aussies. Looking at recent Aussie losses ("recent" as in the Steve Waugh captaincy era), they have lost to the West Indies, England, South Africa, India. The Aussies do crack under pressure - notice the disintegration in the losses to the West Indies during the record run chase and the earlier occasion when Lara cracked a 153*. (A visible sign of that breakdown was the last-ditch sledging attempt.)
To take the Indian victories: In Calcutta, India had to play out of their skin to win that one. A more representative match was the one in Chennai - one batsman & one bowler played exceedingly well (Sachin & Harbhajan) and the others chipped in - inspite of a Hayden double ton. Some luck was needed, which they got when Gilchrist was wrongly given out LBW to be the middle stick in Harbhajan's 'trick. At most points in the match, the Aussies continued to play at a high level. To beat them, India had to play as well as they did and match them performance for performance.
Now this Indian team, we know, isn't capable of playing too consistently But that doesn't preclude them from getting it all together for one Test. That happened at Headingley. That can happen again. People are right when they say, there is very little doubt that India will lose the series. But when they say India doesn't have much of a chance in even one Test, they're being unfair and as we're prone to be, over-critical. We overreact when they win, we overreact when they lose.
To win therefore, it is pretty simple (in theory): play at a reasonably high (Test?) level (the Aussies are not supermen, they only do their stuff regularly - they're more predictable). A team has to put them under pressure to have a chance - the Aussie plan in recent times has been to ensure they don't get themselves into such spots, and usually revolves around batting a team out of the match. For that, India need to do the basics right first, then we can talk about their chances - there is no foundation if the reverse happens as it does each time. The bowlers must stop trying to bowl grenades each ball and follow the Benaud/O'Reilly dictum of first using a stock ball to build pressure. The batsmen must run hard, not lose wickets by fishing outside the off-stump or forgetting to ground their bats or some such silly method. The fielders simply have to hold their catches. Every respected commentator on air has these and only these points to say when asked "What do India have to do to win?". It is that simple, or perhaps, that complex. Still, I'll say this again and again, the Aussies can't make the Indians play badly if they wanted. The Indians bowl no-balls - no amount of sledging makes a bowler do that. It's our problem. What successful professional outfit forgets the basics and hopes for a miracle? None. Any team can play well in one Test, and that's what teams (including India) that have beaten the champs before have done. There is no reason why it can't happen again - once atleast? And that's not saying it'll be a fluke.
Teams that have learnt to win once haven't been able to summon the consistency to do it again in quick time - hence they lose again and the Aussie invincibility myth gains more credibility.
One way of looking at it is a team that can win (agreed, just one Test each) in the alien conditions of West Indies, England, Zimbabwe can win in Australia too. Another way of looking at it is that a team that struggles to win at home has not much chance abroad.
One more fact: however good/bad they play, I'll be getting up at 5:00 am to watch (I suspect like most of us). That's the bottomline - whatever these guys do, we'll be there. Perhaps each time we all secretly believe India's going to win this time... That defines our (unreasonable?) optimism.