India vs Australia: Breaking it down for the Test openers

Over the years, India’s openers have struggled on the bouncy wickets Down Under. Ahead of the India vs Australia cricket Test series, Sachin Tendulkar, Aakash Chopra and Wasim Jaffer offer their insights.

Aakash Chopra: “Murali Vijay scored a century (144) at the Gabba last time. He completely did it his way. He knew where his off-stump was."   -  getty images

From Merv Hughes to Glenn McGrath to Brett Lee, Sachin Tendulkar has mastered generations of Australian pacers, all the while collecting in excess of 1,800 runs Down Under. But coming in at No. 4 for a large part of his career, Tendulkar would often be in damage-control mode as the Indian openers struggled on the bouncy pitches of Australia.

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While this Indian side has bowlers capable of taking 20 wickets in an overseas Test match, the openers are still being tried and tested. Ahead of the four-match series starting December 6 in Adelaide, the focus will be on a mirror-cracking start — something that has mostly eluded India on previous tours.

In an interview with Sportstar, Tendulkar left advice for the openers in the fray: Murali Vijay, K. L. Rahul and the youngster Prithvi Shaw, who will miss the first Test due to an ankle injury.

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“In Australia, the first 30-35 overs are going to very critical when the ball is new and the seam is upright. Then the seam kind of flattens and fast bowlers may not find zip off the pitch. The first 35 overs will be critical, unless they provide green tops where all the bowlers will be in the game longer,” he broke it down.

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To each his own formula

Since the 1999-2000 tour, only one opening pair has managed to touch three figures — Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag in 2003-04. The duo stitched together partnerships of 141 and 123 in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively.

Chopra believes there is no set formula to tackle the chin music — the cricketing parlance for bouncers — on the lively Australian wickets. “Everyone has a different formula, a different way of succeeding. I don’t think one-sided theories and strategies would work. You have got to stick to what works for you,” he said.

“Murali Vijay scored a century (144) at the Gabba last time. He completely did it his way. He knew where his off-stump was. He left everything that was short and all his runs against pace came off the front foot.”

The right-hander had a solid defence and, with the flamboyant and flashy Virender Sehwag, provided much-needed balance.


When in the middle, Chopra would never try to play beyond his skill sets. Patience was key.“All this talk about bad shots and all doesn’t really matter if you have patience. Vijay was patient in that innings. He was trying not to do anything extraordinary when the ball was short. He was also patient in leaving everything that was wide,” said Chopra.

“Viru did it his way. I tried it my way. Whoever goes there has to figure out a way. There is no real formula to succeed in Australia.”

Here's how Indian Test openers have fared in Australia in the past 20 years.


Minor adjustments

Chopra laid out a blueprint that could help the Indian openers pick their shots better. “You either play the horizontal bat shot or vertical; you don’t stay in between. That is something you can do in India and get away with. Punching off the back foot when the ball is rising is something that is advisable generally, but then, as an opener, you end up getting out more often than not,” he warned.

He also advised reading the length a bit quicker. “Reading the length quicker, instead of just the line as you do in India, is a must to score in Australia. You can use it to your advantage.”

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Getting used to the bounce

On the 2007-08 tour, Wasim Jaffer opened the innings with Sehwag. A domestic giant, Jaffer failed to deliver the goods as a newcomer to the national side, and while he studied his mistakes, he didn’t get a chance to rectify them.

The classy right-hander echoed Tendulkar in citing the importance of the first session. “I personally didn’t have as much success as I didn’t spend that much time there. But if you can last the first 20 overs, it gets easy to bat,” he said.

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“You have the bounce and you can play horizontal shots. Once you get used to the bounce, it can be a great place to bat. If you have the shots, batting will get easier with time. You can score a lot of runs.”

Australia will rely on its pace attack to do the bulk of the damage, and the host will look to unleash the trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. But the one-year bans for Steve Smith and David Warner have left a void in its batting department.

Praising the pacers’ skills, Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon once said. “I moved to NSW (New South Wales) so I wouldn’t have to play those guys.”

Set your early-morning alarms, and let the banter begin.

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