In the Australian summer of 2011-12, how Indian batsmen handle the short-pitch stuff could decide their fate. (AFP)
Bang it midway through the pitch with an Indian in front of the sticks and the first reaction would be 'eyes off the cherry, head facing the popping crease and a stoop to the level of the stumps.' That's what most opposite coaches will tell their pacers to use as a ploy against any subcontinent visitors, especially the Indians.
It's infuriating that things haven't changed much from the days of uncovered pitches – such as in 1976, when Bishan Singh Bedi declared the Indian innings to save his bowlers from getting hurt by the 'bounce-them-out' tactics employed by the West Indians. And by the time India's second innings commenced in that Test, five players were absent hurt.
Despite numerous innovations in the years leading up to the 21st century – bowling machines, tennis-ball practice to counter bounce and throw-downs to name a few – one thing remained perpetual: India's susceptibility to bounce. And in the Australian summer of 2011-12, this bane could decide India's fate.
However, not all modern-day Indian batsmen are swarmed by that idiosyncrasy. Old guards like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar can turn the bat horizontal with ease, just like the new crop of Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane who come prepared to wield the willow any which way. But then there is that dodgy breed akin to VVS Laxman and Rohit Sharma, who either end up hand-wringing or fending off to reach as far as the palms of fielders.
"Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters." That famous quote is not out of context if you happen to be an Indian batsman. Spin and pace are a like and dislike, respectively, that Indian batsmen are born with. While spin serves them a supply of runs for a lifetime, pace can make them hop, skip and jump.
Exactly 12 months ago, when India traveled to South Africa, they were faced with the similar task they are up against in Australia – winning their first Test series. The same question was thrown at MS Dhoni then: what will be your tactics against short-pitched bowling?
"We are so used to that question - about how we will handle it when we are bombarded with short balls. The answer is that it will not bother us. Most of our batsmen have recently played quite a lot in South Africa and are much more familiar with conditions than was the case in the past," replied the Indian captain.
Six months after that, Rohit and Yuvraj Singh returned from England with fractured fingers – confirming that Bedi didn't deserve all the bashing he got for saving his bowlers in 1976.
In 2010, India traveled to South Africa as the No. 1 Test team and that they drew the series in a country where they haven’t won a series went a long way in making a statement. But six months later, England's bouncers pushed them to No. 3 with a humiliating 4-0 scoreline, which opened old wounds. Close to six months have gone by, during which India used spin against the West Indies at home to climb to No. 2. And just after Christmas, on Boxing Day, they will pad up to face a barrage from Australia’s pace battery at the MCG.
With Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman touring the Don's land for the last time, it's time that India wipe out that blotch from their celebrated cricket history, which contains two World Cups and a climb to the top of Test rankings. But it's hard to imagine the unaccomplished pullers and hookers coming to the party. The best they can do is to ward off the short stuff off and leave the horizontal-bat strokes to the more dexterous Tendulkar, Dravid and Kohli.
But will the words Dhoni uttered in South Africa this time last year get vindicated or will the Aussies take cue from England and lay concrete on their path to redemption? The script indeed is intriguing!