Stick to the plan: Aussie resolve again pays dividends

‘Near perfect’: McDonald hails Aussie Indore fightback

After Australia prevailed in the final session of the final day of their three-Test tour of Pakistan last year, Andrew McDonald addressed his charges in the Lahore changerooms.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we stuck to a plan, and on the 15th day, we got the reward,” were the words of McDonald, a rare address of the Australian men’s team coach captured by cameras for the Amazon documentary, The Test.

A year on from that grinding triumph, the type of cricket played in India bears almost no similarities to what the Aussies faced in neighbouring Pakistan.

In three Tests in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore, Australia had needed all 15 days of play to secure a 1-0 series win on benign surfaces that rarely assisted bowlers even of the class and experience of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.

By contrast, none of the three Tests in Nagpur, Dehli and Indore have seen play go as far as the final session of the third day and Australia have had all three of their spinners – two of whom had never played Test cricket before the tour – take five-wicket hauls.

Despite the vast differences of the two subcontinental campaigns, the one striking similarity between them has been Australia’s resolve in their own strategy even when it initially appeared it might not be working.

In Pakistan, despite taking just four wickets in the first Test and then failing to bowl out their hosts in a fourth innings that lasted 171 overs in the second, Australia stuck true to a bowling method reliant on defence right up until the moment reverse swing was on offer.

March 2022: Lyon’s five spins Aussies to series victory in Pakistan

In India, Australia’s batters have kept faith with their individual methods from the first two Tests despite facing intense external heat after collapses in both matches saw the Border Gavaskar Trophy squandered within five days of actual cricket.

“We came here and doubled down on what we’d set out to achieve at the start of the tour and we were rewarded,” said McDonald, who insisted victory in the second Test would also have been possible if not for their “one hour of chaos” on day three.

“It’s difficult because you are not getting the reward in runs or wickets or validation through wins … (but) I think the validation of the plans and the method and the way we go about it can work, and that was proved over the last three days.”

March 2023: Tricky chase negotiated as Australia hit back in Indore

Fill-in captain Steve Smith would deliver two key pieces of advice to help turn around Australia’s fortunes in Indore, both in keeping with pledges to not throw the baby out with the bathwater following defeats.

The first was to Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann, with Smith telling them that they, like the side’s batters have had to do in being content for India’s spinners to turn ball after ball past their outside edge, would need to take their “egos out of play”.

The spin trio would account for 18 of the 20 Indian wickets to fall in Indore.

“I spoke to the spinners on the morning of day one and said, ‘You might feel the wicket is spinning I want to be bowling, but we’ve got three of you. If I take you off, it’s not because you’re bowling badly, it’s just that someone else might be doing a better job at that point in time’,” said Smith.

Kuhnemann’s first Test five-for leads rout of India

Another mid-match insight from Smith, who scored three centuries on Australia’s last Test tour of India in 2017, proved significant.

Having described his sweep shot in Delhi that sparked the mad procession of 8-28 as one of the few moments in his Test career where he walked off the field completely mystified as to what he had just done, Smith told teammates he had no such regrets when he edged behind off Ravindra Jadeja in the first innings in Indore.

“Smudge (Smith) explained that to the team – he was happy with the way he got out,” McDonald recounted. “You have got to be happy with the way you fail at times and not go away from your plans.”

Smith added: “It was just about trusting ourselves, trusting our methods, playing the game for longer periods of time and having faith that we’ll succeed.”

Lyon’s masterful 8-for quells Pujara-led India

Both Smith and Travis Head on Friday rued the fact a series win on this Indian tour remains out of reach with the ledger set at 1-2 going into the final Test in Ahmedabad next week.

For Smith and several of the older members of the side like Lyon, Usman Khawaja and David Warner, it may have been the last chance of their careers to do what just one Australian side (in 2004) has done this century.

But a win at the Narendra Modi Stadium would still prove significant. From the 15 Test campaigns India have played at home over the past decade, no team has drawn a series, let alone won one.

An Australian win Ahmedabad would not only clinch a 2-2 series tie, but it would also ensure they will have won more games than they have lost in Asia over their three trips to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India in the space of 12 months.

As it stands, their record is three wins, two daws and three loses.

It would mark another moment of pride for an Australian side that is yet to lose a Test series since McDonald took over as coach last year.

Border-Gavaskar Qantas Tour of India 2023

February 9-13: India won by an innings and 132 runs

February 17-21: India won by six wickets

March 1-5: Australia won by nine wickets

March 9-13: Fourth Test, Ahmedabad, 3pm AEDT

All matches broadcast live and exclusive on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson

India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat