Steve Waugh, who retired in 2003 without a series win in India, which he called his Final Frontier, said on Tuesday (February 14) that the upcoming four-Test series Australia play in India would be a very challenging assignment with the home team on an unprecedented roll.
India, the No. 1 Test side, have won their past six series and are unbeaten in their last 19 Tests – of which they have won a whopping 15, including their last five on the trot against England and Bangladesh.
“This new Team India can achieve anything and Virat Kohli’s leadership has been contagious,” Waugh told reporters in Monte Carlo, where he has gone as a Laureus Academy brand ambassador. “India will be hard to beat in India and that has been proved in the last couple of years. It is a combination of things that makes India a good team.
“Australia, though, have just had a good Test series (against Pakistan) and we have some players who not many people know much about. So that can be to our advantage. The first Test (in Pune) is important to get off to a nice start.”
To succeed, Australia will not only have to find a way past Virat Kohli, but also deal with the wiles of R Ashwin, who became the fastest to 250 Test wickets in history in terms of number of Tests played, getting there in his 45th match – India’s 208-run win against Bangladesh.
“Ashwin has done some amazing things,” acknowledged Waugh. “He has been the Don Bradman of bowling, I would say. Plus, he has been a handy batsman too. We need to overcome him if we want to be competitive.”
Waugh, however, disagreed with the assessment of Sourav Ganguly, his rival captain during the famous 2001 series when India came from behind to win 2-1. Ganguly had stated that a 4-0 whitewash – like was the case when Australia toured India in 2013 – was very much on the cards.
“It will be foolish to say that,” contended Waugh. “I have known this Australian team and they can spring a few surprises. India have some match-winners in the team, but I think Sourav is a bit optimistic about that one. I would like to challenge Sourav on that statement. But anything can happen. Mitchell Starc is the best fast bowler in the world, we have (Josh) Hazlewood. We have some spinners that Indians haven’t seen. Australia would definitely not be going to India thinking they would lose 4-0.”
One of the men who need to click for Australia to do well was David Warner, according to Waugh, who said the opener’s runs would be key. “For Australia to win or compete in India, Warner has to score a lot of runs,” said Waugh. “We have a few surprises in the team, but it will be the senior players who have to take the responsibility, first up. He is a phenomenal player. He will be facing Ashwin, so that will test him. But he is the kind of player who doesn’t care about reputations, and it’s great to see the form he has been in in recent years.”
Waugh said he wanted Steven Smith’s side to avoid the mistakes England made in their 4-0 defeat in five Tests, with the first Test ending in a draw after England held an advantageous position but declared a little late by putting a premium on safety first.
“England missed a trick in the first Test. If you are in India, you’ve got to be positive,” offered Waugh. “You can’t sit and wait for things to happen. England should have won that first Test. There is huge support out there for the home side, and when guys like Kohli start doing well – plus the tsunami of support – it’s hard to turn the tides from there.”
The trend in world cricket in recent years has been that teams have been tough to beat at home, and it has been increasingly difficult to win overseas. But Waugh saw no reason for that to hold. “Well, every team’s form has been bad overseas. There shouldn’t be any reason for that though, it’s a global game these days,” he said. “No excuses not to do well away from home. We have neutral umpires, plus there is DRS. I don’t know the reason, I think it’s just the mentality. I, personally, always enjoyed playing overseas, thought it was always a little lesser pressure. You are away from all the expectations of the home crowd and family and friends and media – you tend to relax when you are away. Not sure why teams don’t do that these days.”