Hospitable Indians and calm before the storm - Suneer Chowdhary column

2008 Sep 27 by DreamCricket

For all his worth as a good batsman, amazing fielder and a shrewd, tough-as-nails skipper of Australia, and a below-par coach of first South Australia and then India, Greg Chappell's credentials as a double 'o' seven-like spy should hardly hold ground.

For all his worth as a good batsman, amazing fielder and a shrewd, tough-as-nails skipper of Australia, and a below-par coach of first South Australia and then India, Greg Chappell's credentials as a double 'o' seven-like spy should hardly hold ground. And hence, one really needs to wonder about the rationale behind the hue and cry over the appointment of Chappell as the assistant coach to the Tim Nielsen in the Aussie team. After all, it was not so long ago that many an Australian cricketers had expressed surprise over his appointment as the coach of India. Some cricketers like Paul Wilson - of the 1998 tour of India fame - had even gone up to the extent of questioning Chappell's credentials as a coach, after a sorry time for the state side of South Australia. And here we are here making an ample mountain of a molehill of an issue that needs to be shrugged off as easily as VVS Laxman flicks anything off his legs to the boundary.

Yet, the conspiracy theories have already been laid as to how Chappell would now be in a position to pass over tips to the Aussie team on how to bowl at the Indian batsmen, or more importantly play Indian spinners of the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. And how this would ensure that the Aussies come out trumps in the series. There couldn't be a bigger load of hogwash in this line of thinking. As Chappell has mentioned in the press conferences about the amusement over these theories, Ricky Ponting's travails against Indian spinners would have had ended by now, had it been as simple as that. Or Shane Warne would never have had 'nightmares of Sachin Tendulkar jumping down the track' and slamming him away, if by the same logic, he had spoken to any Indian ex-cricketer.

And one hopes that this issue has been restricted to a particular section of the media only, and not get seeped down to the Indian cricketers' mindset, because that would mean that the team could go into the series feeling a done in by the structure, and that is certainly not the case, in this day and age of the sport.

Having said that, the one area that the Indians could - and are - finding it a little tough in reconciling is the hospitality that has been meted out to the Australian team by the BCCI in general, and by one Mr. Lalit Modi in particular. For starters, the Aussies have been allowed the luxury of a couple of tour matches to fructify their preparation process to the fullest. And while this by itself is not that big an issue in itself, it does become one when looked through the prism of the previous Indian tours to Australia. In 2007-08, in the only tour game at the start of the series, only half a day was possible before inclement weather had its say, while 2003-04 had no such opulence for the visitors.

And then there have been instances of how foreign countries have refused net-bowlers of quality to the touring Indians, resulting in either over-bowling of the frontline Indian bowlers, or some of the batsmen having to face up to part-timers.

If this has not been enough by itself, Cricket Australia has already rubbed it in by sending down bouquets and Christmas cards to Lalit Modi and the RCA for the 'excellent facilities' that have been provided to the team. Reading a little between the lines, these aforesaid mentioned 'facilities' include, providing Chappell and the touring Aussies with a string of different types of pitches. These pitches include a gamut; those which keep a trifle lower than those found in Australia, one that does not come up to the bat wit an ease, and which spin as sharply as any of those found in this country. To add to that, the Aussies had arrived in India on the 22nd of September, which adds up to a cool seventeen days of acclimatization in conditions that are as alien to some of their inexperienced brigade as the language of Latin to most of the Indians. There has been a promise for a 'one-good-turn-deserving-another' scenario, but for that one would have to wait for some more years, as it would be some time before the Indians set foot on the Aussie shores.

One also needs to return to the debate about the venues for the test matches. One may daresay, but this seems to be the best luck of draw that the tourists could have ever hoped for. For the uninitiated, the pitches of Bangalore and Mohali are more sporting - from Australia's perspective - than any other grounds in India, and they form the venues for the first two tests. With the nip in the air already making its way around Chandigarh, the Mohali track's bounce and the little swing would help the Aussie bowlers more than the Indian spinners. With Ricky Ponting's strong dislike towards the likes of the Wankhede in Mumbai, it would have been interesting to see whether this venue would have made it for the Australian matches had it not been for the renovation it is currently undergoing.

One would, of course, hope that Nagpur fiasco of 2004 does not repeat itself, when the Indians had found it difficult to discern between the pitch and the outfield and ended up capitulating to an equally - and pleasantly - surprised Australian line-up. Or for that matter, like the even more recent debacle of 2008, the match doesn't culminate into a situation akin to the match-up against South Africa at Ahmedabad, where Indians had failed to get past the three-figure mark on an 'unIndian' wicket. If there is anything that remotely resembles something known as home advantage, it should be exploited to the fullest, without giving an inch to the visiting team. Not so long ago did the likes of SCG look harder and greener than they have ever looked in their lifetime.

For now though, it is interesting to observe the stark silence that can be heard from the Aussie camp under a clever veil of an attempt to reduce the bad blood between the two cricketing giants. Knowing very clearly about how well the odds are stacked up against them, the tourists seem to be lulling the Indians into a false sense of security by biding their time. They seem to be concentrating on their business rather than mouthing off words to the essence of not-so-nice, and this can be seen from their choice of the first few players who have made it to the press conferences. Michael Hussey and Brett Lee, two of the quieter and non-controversial Aussies have been sent out to make all the right kind of noises, and so far, they have been doing a perfect job. The Matt Haydens and the Ricky Pontings of the world have yet to make their 'real' presence felt, and so have the mental disintegration tactics.

Now, whether this is the IPL effect or a masterful tactic, is really unknown, but one is definitely inclined towards believing in the latter. John Buchanan had very smartly realised before the series in 2004, the worth of having defensive fields as an attacking option. Similarly, this team seems to have reconciled with the fact that the best way to go about business is to not rub the wrong side of this aggressive Indian line-up, and instead, coaxing the Indians into letting their guard loose.

To me, it looks to be the proverbial calm before the storm.