Indian cricket fans of certain age would all claim that they watched the epic Test series of 2001; that they were all either at the Eden Gardens or at the Chepauk Stadium, or glued to the television. It was a comeback for the ages by India against the all-conquering Australians under the tough-as-nails Steve Waugh. Amongst those Aussies was a burly left-handed opening batsman with a weathered visage from Queensland that swept his way back in to the side.
There will be another burly left-handed Queenslander opening the batting for Australia in 2017 but with a cherubic face. Will his sweeping skills match those of Matthew Hayden? We'll have to wait and see. Matt Renshaw, all of 20 years and 17 First-Class (FC) games, will accompany David Warner at the top of the order as the series kicks off in Pune.
After South African bowlers skewered the Aussies at Perth and at Hobart late last year, Australia needed a new infusion of youth. The Yorkshire-born Renshaw with his old-fashioned batting geared towards the longest format — he is yet to play a T20 match domestically or otherwise — was seen as a complementary partner to the pint-sized dynamite Warner. Their contrasting styles were evident at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 3 January. As Warner raced to a hundred before lunch on opening day, Renshaw calmly nudged his way to a placid 25 off 84 balls. He would eventually open up a bit more to show a different side to his batsmanship, striking 20 boundaries on his way to a maiden Test century (184 off 293 balls).
Renshaw and Warner are similar in that they both debuted for Australia having played only a handful of FC games. Warner's reputation was already known through limited overs matches but he had only appeared in 11 FC matches before he wore the baggy green at Hobart vs New Zealand in 2011. Renshaw just had 12 FC matches experience before he was brought in to replace another Queenslander, Joe Burns. Those 12 games included a marathon 170-runs innings (off 395 deliveries) and a successful Shield season in 2015-16, where he was Queensland's top scorer.
But playing South African and Pakistani bowlers on the true-bounce-no-sideways-movement pitches of Australia and facing up to the wily duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on Indian tracks is very different; almost as different as the batting philosophies of Warner and Renshaw.
In preparation for the trial by turn, Australian squad had assembled in Dubai for a training camp before heading into the cauldron of India, to work on their strategies and skills to combat Ashwin and Jadeja. In addition, even before that camp, Renshaw spent time at the nets in the National Cricket Academy in Brisbane with Steve O'Keefe and Monty Panesar trying to get used to batting on turning pitches.
While an off-spinner presents considerable threat to a left-hander than a slow left-armer, Renshaw would be wise to have paid attention to Alastair Cook's dismissals in the recently concluded India-England series. Cook, in Aussie terms, was Jadeja's “bunny” having been dismissed by the Saurashtra spinner six times in ten innings, and Ashwin accounting for the former England captain just thrice.
During Australia's previous Test sojourn to India, a sedate left-handed opener partnered Warner as well. Ed Cowan averaged only 33 in those four Tests but routinely provided a solid base for the Aussie middle order. Darren Lehmann and Steve Smith would hope for something similar from Renshaw as well. More than the runs he makes, it would be the amount of time he spends at the crease and the number of deliveries he consumes to take the sting out of the Indian attack to pave way for Smith and the middle order that would be the stick used to measure Renshaw's success on this tour.
Australia have Shaun Marsh in the squad as a backup opener as well, who has prior experience and success in playing in India and on spinning wickets. But considering Renshaw has opened in Australia's four most recent Test matches, all signs point to the young man facing up to India.
Like Hayden, Renshaw's height would also allow him the reach to comfortably play the sweep shots and that could be his primary method to tackle Ashwin and Jadeja. Renshaw reportedly had phone conversations with Hayden before leaving for Dubai, to get an understanding of handling India the country and its spinners.
Hayden had the benefit of having played few seasons of county cricket on the turning tracks of Northamptonshire and absorbing the knowledge of handling spin during a clinic at the MRF Academy in Chennai, years before his career changing series in 2000-01. But if Renshaw scores even half as much as Hayden's aggregate in that series, he would have gone a long way in not only establishing himself in the Australian side, but set Australia on its way to success in the challenging series.