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The Aussies could win in India... But they won't

Nathan Lyon is unlikely to spin Australia to victory in India - thus, they are unlikely to win in India. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Expert
13th December, 2016
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2642 Reads

The opportunity to listen to some cricket on the radio early on Monday morning while consistently cursing the traffic was merely a dream (the cricket, not the traffic), as England duly capitulated to give India a thumping victory in both the fourth Test and the series.

Once Joe Root had been dismissed on the fourth afternoon, England’s hopes – already slim at best – were extinguished, as the form book played out as expected.

Prior to their arrival in India, and with a chastening defeat in Bangladesh still fresh in the memory, England were given little hope of repeating their 2012 triumph and the only real surprise is that after four of the five games they are three and not four-nil down.

Perhaps such cynicism is unwarranted, as they played pretty well in the series opener, but once the hosts found their range so to speak, the tide turned inexorably, with the latest manifestation of such form being the innings triumph at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.

With Virat Kohli basking in the ego-drenching adulation he appears to thrive on and Ravichandran Ashwin tirelessly and persistently erasing the majority of records in his path, India have the standout performers to go with a supporting cast who, in comparison with their opponents, have simply been too good.

Indias captain Virat Kohli

It is no disgrace to lose to a better side, although judging by some of the reaction you would’ve thought a capital offence had been committed, and that is what has transpired.

England have batted well at times but not often enough and the same goes for their bowling, which has had its moments but the sum of the parts has been less than necessary and the result is there for all to see.

The victory extended India’s unbeaten stretch to 17 matches and while the claims of Kohli’s men becoming one of the greatest ever teams – this was their coach speaking and that might be pushing it a touch – need examining more often on foreign soil, given their next assignments are at home you would be brave to bet against them adding to their tally.

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The first of these is against Bangladesh and although their fellow Asian nation have improved out of sight in recent times and won’t be playing in alien conditions, they have got next to no hope in a one-off Test.

It could well be more competitive than most imagine but that will be about it.

And that brings up Australia, who have four outings, starting in Bangalore in February, to try and achieve the twin feats of downing the world’s number one side and halting their own dreadful record on the subcontinent.

There is still the small matter of Pakistan first, who are no mugs but shouldn’t – and won’t, given the up and down nature of their top order – be favourites, yet it is India on the horizon and attention will already be turning slightly towards what is looming as a severe challenge.

It would be too easy and possibly lazy to take the ‘they’ve got no chance’ option, as sport offers variation away from the predictable often enough to warn against complacency.

Australia shouldn’t have won in the Caribbean in 1995, England shouldn’t have won the 2005 Ashes, Leicester shouldn’t have won the Premier League last season, South Africa shouldn’t have beat the All Blacks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final…

But they did and bearing the aforementioned in mind, Australia shouldn’t be ruled out of upsetting the apple cart.

How they do this depends on one significant factor and at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, who’s going to do the spin bowling?

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And I don’t mean who could they pick, as a couple of names immediately jump out, but more crucially, are they capable of gaining any traction in the series?

The Mitchell Starc-led seam attack will hold its own and while the top order have indifferent form in such conditions, they are more than capable of posting decent totals if they put their minds to it.

But as has been ruthlessly shown up in England’s doomed attempt, if your spinners aren’t cutting it, don’t expect to come out on top.

This is hardly revealing state secrets, but it really is as simple as that. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid haven’t offered either control or a consistent threat, and given they’ve been required to do the donkey work, it put England on the back foot before they’d even started.

If the dependable Nathan Lyon – a fairly average 42 wickets at as many runs apiece in Asia – doesn’t show up and whoever partners him is found wanting, then, in fairly stark terms, Australia will come a distant second.

Any team in the modern era with claims to greatness needs to win in India if their boasts are to have any legitimacy.

Are Steven Smith’s men ready to take that leap? I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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