Australia v India Test series: Clouds and silver linings

Things look grim for our heroes. With the ball tampering bans of Smith, Warner, and Bancroft, but particularly Smith and Warner, the Australian men’s batting cupboard is thoroughly bare. Not a pickle to be found, let alone someone who is likely to average above 40 in Test cricket.


As the Indian series looms, much doom and gloom is prophesied. India comes to Australia with a solid Test squad who, despite losing 4-1 in England in our winter, are comparatively bristling with Test experience.


While we await the finalisation of the line-ups for the first Test, even a rough guess shows the comparative distance between the two teams. While Australia’s bowling line-up is experienced and world class, using on average 94 overs and conceding 289 runs in taking 10 wickets, the batting line-up has 118 Tests to their collective names, of which 64 belong to the name Marsh.


Potential Australian XI – Adelaide, 6 December


By comparison, India are likely to take in an experienced batting group built around the 137 Tests of Kohli and Pujara and the all-round depth of Jadeja and Ashwin with their combined 103 Tests of experience.


While the remainder of the batting line-up is either unspectacular or inexperienced, this is a key area of advantage for the visitors.


Potential Indian XI – Adelaide, 6 December


As it comes to bowling, across their careers the Indian attack is quite similar to Australia. They too, on average, use 94 overs to take wickets but for 14 fewer runs than their Australian counterparts.


It is worthwhile noting, however, that on average Jadeja and Ashwin bowl 47% of India’s balls and take half of the wickets. They should not expect the same return in Australia (spin bowling in India over the last 10 years takes wickets at an average of 32.72 and a strike rate of 65, while in Australia it’s 48.07 and 85.6 respectively. Spinners visiting Australia fare even worse, averaging 59.94 with a strike rate of 100.5).


Australian teams in transition


So, despite the home ground advantage, which is consistently underrated in Test cricket, Australia are still up against it. Surely, that’s to be expected in a season where the team is effectively transitioning to a new captain, isn’t it?


It does get one to pondering, however. How does this potential Australian team stack up against the equivalent sides over the last 40 or so years?


Well, as they say on the Curiosity Show, I’m glad you asked (yes, yes, I know I asked but this is no time for semantics). The short answer is ‘not well’.


This first table looks at each Australian men’s XI at the start of the summer after losing a captain, in terms of experience and aggregates of the batting and bowling line-ups.



As expected, the likely bowling line-up for the upcoming Adelaide Test fares pretty well. It is the second most experienced group behind Ricky Ponting’s 2004 team that featured late career Warnes, McGraths and Gillespies (well, one of each, actually), and third in wickets behind that team and Steve Waugh’s 1999 side (also replete with a Warne, a McGrath, and himself with 89 wickets).


The possible batting line-up fares much less well, however, as the third least experienced; in front of Steve Smith’s 2015 team (with only Warner and Smith having played more than 10 Tests at the time) and Bob Simpson’s 1977 non-World Series Cricket XI.


Bob Simpson’s XI


If you think Australian men’s cricket is in a bit of crisis now, check out this XI:


Australian XI – Brisbane, 2 December 1977


The Australian team in the first Test of the 1977/78 featured six players on debut, with only Simpson and Jeff Thomson having played more than a handful of Tests. Simpson’s most recent Test outing had been in January 1968.


To further highlight the starkness of the situation, the other nine players would only manage another 68 Tests between them after the first Test of the 1977/78 summer (though, Steve Rixon has the distinction in his 13 Test career of playing in that match and Alan Border’s first as captain in 1984).


Compare that to Alan Border who had David Boon playing his second Test:


Australian XI – Adelaide, 7 December 1984


Or Mark Taylor who had McGrath playing his eighth and Warne his 30th:


Australian XI – Brisbane, 25 November 1994


Or Waugh who had Gilchrist on debut (who also could not bowl nor throw):


Australian XI – Brisbane, 5 November 1999


Or Ponting who had Clarke playing his fifth game:


Australian XI – Brisbane, 18 November 2004


Or Clarke, himself, with Starc playing his sixth and Lyon his 16th:


Australian XI – Hobart, 14 December 2012


Every new captain since Simpson has had at least one world-class player at the start of their career. The closest Tim Paine may have is Pat Cummins playing Test 15, but ‘start’ may be a bit of a stretch.


The silver lining


Back to young Bob Simpson. Despite the setback of losing Chappell, Lillee, Marsh et al to World Series Cricket, his ultra-inexperienced line-up won the subsequent thrilling series against… wait for it… India, 3-2.


Eight wickets from Wayne Clark and a fighting second innings 89 from Simpson saw Australia win the first Test by a measly 16 runs. In Perth, Australia chased down a fourth innings target of 342 with two wickets to spare, highlit by Simpson’s first innings 176. Chandrasekhar spun India to comfortable victories in Melbourne and Sydney.


And finally in Adelaide, another century to Simpson anchored Australia to a sixth day 47 run win. Simpson, fittingly, also took the final wicket in the series.


So, while the numbers would suggest Australia is up against it, all is not lost. Granted, the visiting Indian side is very different from that of 1977/78, but an effective stand-in captain was able to bring together a competitive outfit in trying circumstances. If Paine can produce a series anywhere near as good as 1977/78 perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom after all.


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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. A good and thoughtful read there, thanks Browny!
    Anyone who is old enough to recall the Tests played during the WSC years will surely never forget how ordinary some of the Test players were. Has time undersold Bob Simpson’s heroics?

  2. Excellent Dave extremely comprehensive,Travis Head is the interesting one a lot of ability but a long long way to go re Travis working out the art of batting you never feel he is in.Definitely not a batting line up to have any confidence in what so ever,Warner and Smith stupidity means huge advantage,India if they win this series here they never will ( agree Smokie mind you Peter Toohey and Craig Serjeant in particular were v unlucky not to receive more opportunities) thanks Dave

  3. Peter Warrington says

    great stuff

    as many bizarre selections this summer as there were in 77-8. eg Yallop on the outer. Hughes in and out (Simmo didn’t like him.)

  4. John Butler says

    Great context for what lies ahead, Dave.

    I’d be very happy if we got a series like 77/78.

    I reckon the Indian pace bowlers are the key here. If they make consistent inroads, the series will be theirs to lose. If they leave the spinners to have to provide the breakthroughs, then it’s game on.

    Love your work.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Great work Dave. I’ve quickly calculated nineteen different Australian players used in the 77/78 Indian series.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic Dave.
    As you rightly note, home ground advantage is a massive factor in International cricket. While India may never get a better chance to win a Test series in Australia, what a wonderful opportunity for Finch, Harris, Head, Handscomb or even a Marsh to stand up and do something really special. A fascinating series awaits.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the read and comments, folks.

    As someone who was a tad too young to take in the 1977/78 summer, Smokie, I was surprised looking over the scorecards just how important Simpson was. Not just the runs made but when he made them. Not to mention contributing with the ball as well.

    Agree re. Head, RB. Despite how long he has been in the system now, it still feels like he is learning how to reliably construct an innings. It’s a tough job doing that while wearing a baggy green.

    Yep, Peter and Swish – there’s a bit of artificiality for the purposes of brevity in this analysis, only looking at the first Test team of the summer. Some more recognisable names pop up later in the series, if only briefly. But to use 19 players in a (just) winning series is pretty amazing.

    Bumrah seems a very good bowler, John and they have plenty of fast bowling depth, given they could use an entirely different pace line-up here compared to that they used against the West Indies only a couple of months ago.

    Yep, definitely an opportunity to embrace for a number of batsmen, Luke.

  8. Wow, 3 Victorians in the top 6 of the batting order ! Jog my memory when this last happened.

    I can recall the very first WACA test of 1970 when 4 of the top 6 were Victorians: Lawry, Stackpole, Redpath & Sheehan. Now that’s a long time back. A few times i can recall 2 of the top 6 being from Victoria: Yallop/Whatmore, Whatmore/Moss, Jones/Phillips, but when did we last have 3 Victorians in the Australian top 6 ?


  9. Lucas Garth says

    Handscomb Maxwell Wade were in the top 7 in India earlier last year.

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