The Australian squad that the Indian cricket team is facing on this particular tour is significantly different from the one they faced the last time. In an ominous warning come true, India are finding that to be true right at the start.
The warnings from Australia seemed at first an attempt at intimidation. After all, as much as Steve Smith made a splash, it was Virat Kohli who ruled through the Indian Premier League 2020 in the UAE. However, knowing that the former Australian captain can turn it on when in Australian colours was evident once more in India’s first on-field encounter down under.
The first one day international got off to a roaring start, promising this tour to be a gritty, attrition-like contest for the visitors and not just because of the quarantine rules as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the heart of it all, was not just the colossal warning from David Warner, who like Smith is facing India on Australian soil for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal two years ago, but also because Smith lived up to the billing, right from the get-go.
For the better part of the fifty overs, it was Australia grinding down India’s bowlers, pulverizing them for runs, mincing them in good measure as if playing a long Twenty20 innings. The battle between bat and ball began to look even more skewed once Smith entered the frame.
If Australia managed to score in the near region of a 400 run target, it was because Smith played a massive Twenty20 innings in the first one day international – a 60 ball 100 will do that, picking runs at will, positioning the ball right between the gaps, reducing the opposition to tourists.
This is not to say India could not or did have the wherewithal to respond. If anything, at the halfway mark of India’s innings, another assault of a sublime innings like Smith’s could have well locked in India’s thumping response.
But what is at heart is the idea of singling out one key batsman against another.
There has been much conjecture that Kohli’s absence later on the tour would impact the way he approached the matches he was available for, putting additional pressure on him as both, captain and batsman, to ensure India got off the blocks early and successfully.
However, irrespective of Kohli’s availability, India, like Australia, have to master quickly not only the conditions but also, the need to counter the leading opposition batsman.
Smith showed he had the wood on his opponents in the first match anyway. While India punched up with half-centuries from other players besides the Indian captain, as Warner and to a smaller extent, Glenn Maxwell, showed up for Australia, the game would still hinge on the one player taking it further than anyone else.
Smith has shown as he did in the Ashes in England upon his return from the ban that nothing can keep him down when he is on song, not even missing a match and an innings through a concussion. India will need to find a way to pull the rug from under Smith’s feet very quickly if they are to regain ground.