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Cricket

In India, it helps to come down the track against spin

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BIG SPLASH: Matthew Hayden takes a break during the hectic 2001 series where he topscored for Australia with 549 runs in three Tests. He remains the highest Aussie run-getter on Indian soil with 1, 027 runs in 11 Tests

I was at the crossroads of my career when I came to India in 2001. An average of 24 after 13 Tests wasn't exactly inspiring reading, but I knew that this was my last chance. I had come to Chennai sometime before that, practising at the Madras Rubber Factory, rubbing shoulders with some legends of spin bowling, which did me a world of good. 

Out there in Australia, we are not used to playing on tracks with red soil where the ball really turns. So, on my part, I did that preparation before the 2001 series, putting in those hard yards in Chennai and developing a few shots that would be essential for me to survive in India.

During a practice game against India A ahead of that series, I first met Harbhajan Singh who was to become our nemesis in that series. I was dull and boring in my approach in that game, giving a dead bat to everything that was coming. But I had my reasons.

I did not want the Indians to know that I have not one, but a few different varieties of sweep shots on offer. I tried to carve out a defensive strategy for myself which would help me along the course of that series.

These are some of the things that the Australians need to keep in mind as they embark on their Indian journey. Every player has his own set of ideas, but you should have a specific shot in your book, which would help you out in trying conditions. In my case, it was the sweep. A spinner's stock ball which is on the right length is ideal for sweeping and if you can play that shot well, even quality bowlers get flustered. I also tried to use my reach and didn't mind coming down the track to spinners, and that was one strategy I stuck to whenever I played in India.

If you think that the Australian team that is coming down will be pushovers, you are mistaken. Yes, the loss of Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting will make an impact, but I feel there's a fine young player in Usman Khawaja who will see this opportunity to seal his spot. Glenn Maxwell reminds me a lot of the young Ricky Ponting and it will be a lot about nurturing him while Phil Hughes is a player with a lot of potential. He has been a fine performer for us in domestic cricket and has shown he can survive in different conditions.

During my India visits, I have realized that batting in India has always been about batting for sessions and for long periods of time and it does become easy. And it's also vitally important to have the peace of mind because the Indian conditions, Chennai for example, can get really intimidating. Unless you are clear in your thought process, things can go wrong and I believe these guys, many of whom have IPL experience, will be able to do that.

As I talk about an India-Australia series here, I just can't forget what VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid did to us at Eden Gardens on that hot day. If they decide to act in Bollywood movies, the Australians would love to see them in action there, because they had enough of these two on the field. It's a relief that those two won't be there, just as the Aussies won't mind the absence of Gautam Gambhir. He is a seasoned pro, knows how to play against big teams and it's almost like Mike Hussey not being there for Australia. But then, Sachin would be there and he would like to win his fourth Australia series at home before he goes.

I will be in India for a couple of Test matches, in Hyderabad and Mohali. India has always been one of my most loved destinations and it will be nice to catch up with friends I have known for so many years.

(Matthew Hayden spoke to Dwaipayan Datta)

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