Former wicketkeeper-batsman and captain of the Australian team that last won a Test series on Indian soil (in 2004), Adam Gilchrist said that the main duel in the upcoming four-match series will be between left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and Aussie skipper Michael Clarke.
Gilchrist said that Ojha will be the right weapon against Clarke, who has had a fantastic 2012 with the bat, scoring 1595 runs.
“Michael Clarke has had a phenomenal 12-18 months with the bat. And if someone like Pragyan Ojha plays, that’s going to be a terrific challenge. Ojha is the right man to bowl in India, with the ball going away from the right-hander. And Clarke is a terrific player of spin,” said Gilchrist, in an interview with DNA’s Derek Abraham.
The 41-year-old also said that he is looking forward to seeing Harbhajan Singh bowl in the series. “I am really happy to see Harbhajan named in the squad. He has done really well. He has had his controversial moments and drama, but his record against Australia is quite extraordinary.”
Ninety-one of Harbhajan’s 408 Test wickets have come against Australia.
“I think it’s a great ploy by the selectors to pick him, but whether he plays or not is up to them,” Gilchrist added. “But it’s intriguing. And Australia have a very, very strong group of fast bowlers. They can bowl quick and they are pretty good exponents of old-ball and reverse-swing bowling.”
Gilchrist wasn’t concerned when asked about Australia’s lack of quality spinners, such as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, in the team. He said that Australia’s seam attack was capable enough to perform well in Indian conditions.
“The pitches are going to be dry and dusty, but the seamers will come into play. Look, Australia need to get their tactics right. Clarke debuted here in 2004; his memory will be very fresh and he will be very clear on the strategy. If the pitch turns, Nathan Lyon and the other spinners will be happy. There’s Glenn Maxwell and we also have an unknown commodity in [19-year-old left-arm spinner] Ashton Agar.”
Asked if the some of the sheen of India-Australia series has gone since both teams are in transition, Gilchrist said, “Look, I think it’s still a marquee series in Cricket Australia’s mind. There is a lot of talk about the team’s preparation. They flew out before the Australian cricket summer was over. In fact, Australia played the Twenty20 game against the West Indies without their main players. So the players left early to acclimatise themselves to the conditions and prepare for the challenges of playing in India.” “The lower hype around the series is probably due to the fact that some significant big names are no longer part of both teams…There is a lot of difference between the Australian team of 2004 and now. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are two iconic players, two huge names missing. And on the Indian side, there’s no [Sourav] Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to name a few. That does have an impact on the build-up. But that doesn’t mean the series will not be well-fought,” he said.
Asked how it felt to captain his team to a series win in India, Gilchrist said, “That’s the highlight of my career. Not me being captain, but that victory. We invested a lot of time and energy. We drew a lot from our experiences in 2001; it probably even went back to 1998. So we were gathering information, experiences and learning from them. The 2001 experience [1-2 loss after winning first Test] was a tough lesson. And the feeling of excitement and achievement in Nagpur in 2004 is something I will never forget.”
Gilchrist added that the 1-2 defeat in the epic 2001 series was a source of inspiration and motivation for the Australian team in 2004.
“It was our desire to learn from our experiences,” he said. “It was very satisfying when we won in 2004. The respect the teams had for each other was the real highlight. India played really well in 2003-04 [in Australia, where they tied the four-match series 1-1]; they challenged us in our conditions. And we knew it was a contest between two top-class and very evenly-matched teams. If you got to be the best, you have got to beat the best. India were playing at their very best during that period of time.”
Talking about how Australia prepared for the series, Gilchrist said that the team ensured each and every member was fresh for the start.
Not only did we learn from our setbacks [in 2001], but we also took in the cultural differences that we would come across,” said Gilchrist. So we decided to try and strategise. Steve Waugh had said the conditions in India could be draining and taxing, physically and mentally. What we did during that series was give ourselves a week off. We decided to stay away from each other.
“I flew to Singapore to see my wife and children. In fact, my second child was just born. Some of the guys went to Doha for a beach holiday, some flew to Mumbai. Whatever it was, the idea was to get some free time and stay away from each other and away from cricket. And then we came back together, re-energised for the third Test in Nagpur. And it showed in the way we played. We were fresh in Nagpur and it seemed like a new tour,” he said.
Gilchrist said the Calcutta [now Kolkata] Test in 2001, where VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid forged a match-winning 376-run partnership after India were asked to follow on, is his favourite India-Australia match.
“Calcutta 2001, easily. That was just brilliant,” said Gilchrist. “I was out for a first-ball duck in both innings (laughs). But at the end of that game, and series, regardless of what side you were on, you know you were part of something special. It was not just a great cricketing contest, but one of the greatest sporting contests ever. It was phenomenal. We won the first Test in Mumbai inside three days and then India turned it around exceptionally in Kolkata.
“It was one of the best comebacks in the history of all sport. And it felt amazing to have been involved in it. We were physically and mentally exhausted after Calcutta, but we fortunately took ourselves up and played competitive cricket in Chennai. Sachin and Harbhajan played well. It was a wonderful experience; an experience you can learn a lot from not just about cricket, but life,” he said.