By Nandakumar Marar
MUMBAI: There is something about Australia which brings out the best
in young Indian cricketers, especially the Test debutants. It is
difficult to put a finger on one reason for this… maybe inspired by
the cricketing atmosphere at iconic stadiums or fired up by the
deliberate chatter from rivals on the pitch. Indian players on tour to
this part of the world have come out with guns blazing from their
first day, first show, first tour.
Opener Shubman Gill, all-rounder Washington Sundar, fast bowlers
Mohammed Siraj, Thangarasu Natarajan, Navdeep Saini in the current
series came out on a high on their first tour Down Under. Mayank
Agarwal announced his arrival three years ago as an attacking batsman
with 76 on Test debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2018.
Agarwal’s knock was the highest individual score in Australia by any
Indian debutant in Tests (bettering Dattu Phadkar’s 51 at Sydney in
1947). He returned in 2020-2021 for another tour, as part of a group
bonding in a corona-induced bubble. This time, he got a chance in the
first and second Test as opener and in the fourth and final Test as a middle-order batsman.
Australian teams target vulnerable rival players even before the
tourists have arrived, as part of mind games aimed at putting
opponents on the defensive. The local media builds a larger-than-life
image of home stars, whose performance falls below expectations at
times after becoming victims of their own inflated persona.
Under different captains, Australian teams over the years have tried
to distract opponents by sledging. Maybe it has the opposite effect on
young, fearless Indians who become more focused on getting the job
done, despite the provocation. Familiarity between players from the
two sides due to IPL experience as teammates, also drastically reduced
the sense of awe for Australian big names.
Test debutants Gill, Siraj, Washington, Natarajan or Saini did not
hold back their punches when opportunity beckoned. Talks with senior
teammates made them aware about the best way to earn the respect of
Aussies is to beat them at their own game. Being bold is natural and a
cricketing punch to the face is the only language understood by the
The pitches offer bounce for bowlers to attack batsmen, stroke-players
reading the line and length early can take the battle to the bowlers.
For those first-timers able to control their thoughts and remain in
the right frame of mind, the sky is the limit, as Irfan Pathan from an
earlier generation showed.
The swing bowler’s debut was low-key in 2003, but he grabbed the
second chance in the fourth Test at Sydney. His match figures were
3-106 and victims on second Test appearance were Adam Gilchrist, Steve
Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Pathan had retired by the time Team India
flew in again in 2020-2021 under Virat Kohli’s captaincy (later
Ajinkya Rahane marshalled the turnaround) to retain the
Other players named above wrote their names in cricket history. The
competition for places was so intense when the squad was at full
strength, talented K L Rahul returned home without getting to play
even one match. The opener suffered a wrist injury and returned India
for recovery, leaving teammates Gill, Washington, Siraj, Natarajan,
Agarwal and Saini to play their parts in Brisbane as a makeshift Team
India staged a come-from-behind series victory.
All-rounder Shardul Thakur can also be added to this list, playing the
second Test of his career (bowled 10 balls on debut before limping out
due to a groin strain against the West Indies at Hyderabad). Young
cricketers back home watching elegant batting from Shubnam Gill,
Washington Sundar and Shardul in crunch situations against a lethal
bowling attack, will hope to make their Test debut Down Under in
future. Siraj, Natarajan, Saini, Sundar and Thakur delivered with the
ball on wickets offering pace, bounce and grip.
Till the debutants reveal what went through their mind during those
highly-charged moments in the middle after the first Test at Adelaide,
competitive cricket Down Under will retain a hint of mystery. It is
clear though that Australia changed from a formidable frontier to a
favoured hunting ground for Indians, especially new faces who carry no
baggage from the past.
The hunted is now turned hunter and Australians, along with the rest
of the cricketing world, are trying to understand the cause for
composed displays by an inexperienced Indian line-up. All-rounder
Washington Sundar, opening batsman Shubman Gill and fast bowler
Mohammed Siraj were exceptional in their attitude out there, under a
calm leader in Rahane and battle-hardened coach in Ravi Shastri.
Vegetables arranged in a pattern to depict Washington Sundar the
left-handed batsmen with flowing strokes and a canny off-spinner who
more than made up for Ravichandran Ashwin’s absence due to back
strain. Lady fingers, ivy gourds, beans, onions, spring onion used in
this experiment with greens.
Instagram handle @nandudesigns