While India seem to have returned to past days of overseas ignominy, they will begin the Perth Test on Friday hoping at least one chapter from that history repeats itself. To be specific, the four enthralling days in January 2008 when India scripted one of their most unlikely and memorable away wins.
On the face of it, there is a remarkable sense of deja vu heading into the third Test against Australia. India are in a must-win situation if they are to avoid yet another series defeat Down Under, having suffered heavy defeats in the first two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney – just as they had four years ago. A green pitch awaits them at the WACA, with the promise of pace and bounce compelling both teams to consider going in with all-pace attacks. And with their batting so far coming up short against Australia’s pacers, the odds are stacked against them, with a series whitewash looking the more likely result.
There is another unwelcome similarity as the team finds itself under public attack, though the controversies this time around are thankfully nowhere near as ugly as the ‘Monkeygate’ episode that preceded the 2008 Perth Test. Still, the brash words of Zaheer Khan, Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin and the middle fingers of Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma have only served to raise the tension, while the Aussie media has stoked fires with claims of disharmony in the Indian dressing room.
The unsettling backdrop though, had galvanized Anil Kumble’s men to a famous victory. Whether it can have the same impact on the current Indian side is a question that remains to be answered.
There are plenty of things India would like to remember and replicate from that triumph in 2008. It was a match when a second-string bowling attack rattled the mighty Australian batting line-up. RP Singh led the way, Irfan Pathan rediscovered his swing, Kumble chipped in with crucial breakthroughs, and who can forget the nine-over spell by Ishant Sharma to Ricky Ponting on the fourth morning? Indeed, the Indian medium pacers found far more success on a slow pitch in the Perth heat, as the move to go in with four pacers backfired on the Australians.
The batsmen, on their part, laid the platform to allow the bowlers to shine, proving Kumble’s claim that any issues with the pitch were “more mental than in the middle.” Virender Sehwag marked his return to the side by giving India their best opening stand of the series, this after Kumble made the bold decision of batting first. The in-form Sachin Tendulkar then struck a century partnership with Rahul Dravid, who brought to an end a difficult period with a fighting 93. In the second innings, VVS Laxman stepped up and the tail chipped in. The record chase proved beyond Australia, and they fell to their first defeat in Perth since 1996-97, and their first on home soil since the same opponents had defeated them in Adelaide in December 2003. India, meanwhile, won a Test match overseas after a gap of a year.
Cut to 2012 though, and the circumstances are very different. In 2008, an Australian team on the verge of history saw their 16-match winning streak snapped; this time it is the Indians who desperately need to end their run of six straight away Test defeats.
The batting has been largely culpable for the team’s woes. The best opening stand in the series so far has been 22, while the next highest run-getter after Sachin – still on the hunt for his 100th ton – is R Ashwin. Meanwhile, while the bowling has shown promise, it has also lacked the intensity at times. Zaheer Khan – who will be playing his first Test at the WACA after failing to make it past the first match on two previous tours in 2003-04 and 2007-08 – will need better support from Umesh Yadav and an older Ishant returning to the venue where he first made his name.
The pitch is also expected to be different, resembling more the one used during the Ashes Test last year than the track India played on in 2008. Australia temporarily halted a rampant England in that match, defeating them by 267 runs, incidentally with an all-pace bowling attack featuring Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson. Only Johnson will be missing when India take the field on Friday.
So which Perth Test should India draw lessons from? Actually, the most important lesson is common to both Tests – the resilience shown by both India in 2008 and Australia in 2010. As Zaheer said in the lead-up to the match, “This is not the first time we have been put in such a situation. In the past we have come out of these situations.” It is that fighting spirit which the team will need to rediscover, if they are to keep the series alive.