Australia's ODI series victory over India has once again brought their preparation for the tour into the spotlight after they opted against playing any lead-up games prior to the Test matches. The Aussies won the third ODI by 21 runs on Wednesday to claim a 2-1 series victory, which came after they lost the four-Test series by the same 2-1 margin.
In seven matches across both formats, Australia and India both won three (with the fourth Test finishing a draw). But if you take out the first two Tests in which Australia were comprehensively beaten, the tourists actually finished 3-1 up.
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Across the final five matches of the tour, Australia won three, India won one and the other was a draw. That fact has once again raised questions about whether the Aussies were adequately prepared for the Indian conditions, with plenty of spin and inconsistent bounce on display during the first three Tests.
As renowned statistician Ric Finlay pointed out on Twitter: "Australia’s last five matches in India produce three wins, a draw and a loss. I wonder if a decent period of acclimatisation there prior to the first match might have brought that sort of record forward a bit…"
Former captain Michael Clarke was among the many to criticise Australia's preparation for India after they decided against playing any tour games. The Aussies thought they were better served training in conditions that they could control, rather than being at the mercy of the curator of the pitch for a tour game.
As Steve Smith pointed out, the Aussies have been stitched up in previous tours when curators have purposely produced pitches that haven't been similar to those expected for the actual series. While Tests against India are usually played on spin-friendly pitches, curators will often prepare green, seaming wickets during tour games.
However the lack of a tour game appeared to backfire brutally when India stormed to a 2-0 series lead and retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy in less than six days of Test cricket. Australia lost the first Test by an innings and 132 runs before going down by six wickets in the second.
Clarke described Australia's decision to forego a tour game 'ridiculous', adding: “I think the bit that gets me about it all is - and we talked about it before the series started - were they as well prepared as they could be? And the general consensus, if you talk to anyone on the street, is no, they weren’t.
“No practice game, no tour match, turn up ... and got dusted in a manner people are pretty disappointed about. Say what you want, they got smoked. India are a pretty good team in their country, but I just don’t think they were prepared well enough.”
Stop being so sensible Ric!
— Jamie Cox (@jamiecox1969) March 22, 2023
The schedules that don’t include a warm up match is genuinely unhelpful to all teams - visiting teams to Australia it’s the same. Off the plane to the nets to a test. This isn’t preparation.
— Peter Taliangis (@PeterTaliangis) March 22, 2023
With games leading into the first test, yes every chance it would've. Surely maximising prospects of success is so important that lead-up games should be written into tours.
— Rocky Perrotta (@rockyperrotta) March 22, 2023
Questions arise around Steve Smith and Pat Cummins
Aussie coach Andrew McDonald later responded: "I still wouldn't have changed what we did leading in, there's no doubt about that. I think they had really good preparation in Bangalore, so there's not any excuses.
"At the end of day two (in the second Test), if you said our preparation was good, you'd probably have a different slant on it, but within an hour then people start to critique what happened in the past. I don't think that had a great bearing on what happened in that hour, we were prepared for that, and day three, as well as we could have been and we failed under the examination of India."
Some have also questioned whether the Aussies would be better served with Smith as captain rather than Pat Cummins. Australia's change in fortunes also coincided with Cummins' decision to leave India for Australia to be with his sick mother, who passed away before the fourth Test.
The impact of Steve Smith’s captaincy on this India tour cannot be overstated. Aus won one test, drew the other and then won the ODI series under him. As good as Cummins has been, it’s pretty evident that Smith still remains the best man for the job. #INDvsAUS
— Nikhil Naz (@NikhilNaz) March 22, 2023
Since Pat Cummins left the tour, Australia under Steve Smith won a test match, drawn the next and clinched the ODI series.
He is a freak. His cricketing brain is unparalleled.#INDvAUS
— Parth MN (@parthpunter) March 22, 2023
Or maybe Steve Smith is more tactical 🤷♂️
— 🏈🏉🇦🇺 (@NrlCorrupted) March 22, 2023
Hard to argue against that hypothesis! I also thought the change in captain helped....Smith much better tactically in Indian conditions.
— Wayne Colling (@wayne_colling) March 22, 2023
Surely steve smith has to be Australian teams captain ? #INDvAUS
— Ahsan Malik (@ahsanmalik786) March 22, 2023
However the Aussies' turnaround appears more to do with Smith's vast experience in India (three tours) rather than any deficiencies with Cummins. The fast bowler will undoubtedly take back the reins when the Aussies play India again in the World Test Championship final at The Oval in June, before a blockbuster Ashes series gets underway later that month.
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