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Gilchrist reveals key to success in India

Australian Test legend urges Steve Smith not to ignore his fast bowlers on upcoming tour

Test great Adam Gilchrist says the lessons learnt from Australia’s ill-fated 2001 tour of India laid the platform for the landmark triumph three years later.

While Australia has opted for a squad flush with slow-bowling options for the four-Test series against the world’s No.1 ranked Test side, starting next month, their pacemen played a crucial role in the 2-1 series victory in 2004.

Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird will shoulder the fast-bowling workload with the first Test to be staged in Pune from February 23.

But Australia, riding the momentum of four consecutive Test victories, have also included Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Ashton Agar, Glenn Maxwell and the uncapped Mitchell Swepson in the 16-man touring party.

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Jason Gillespie (20 wickets) spearheaded Australia’s attack in the 2004 series and was backed up by Glenn McGrath (14), Shane Warne (14) and Michael Kasprowicz (9).

Australia has not won a Test match – let alone series – on Indian soil since, while the home side have not lost a Test match since 2015 and won their most series against England 4-0.

Former wicketkeeper Gilchrist, who led Australia in the first three Tests of the successful 2004 series, said an adjustment in approach between the two tours proved critical.

“We ended up totally changing our policy in ‘04,” he said on Sky Sports Radio.

“We went from thinking it all had to be based around spin and going to our quicks (instead).

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“Warnie was obviously our key spinner and he did a wonderful job, but in a rare occasion it was almost like he was really tying an end up and it was the quicks who were doing the attacking.

“I don’t know that we’ve got quality of those guys necessarily in bowling ranks at the moment. It was a pretty high quality that was set by those guys.

“I think the squad covers a variety of options and then they’ll get there and have to quickly work out what option they’ll want to go with. Is it spin heavy or is it going to the quicks and plugging an end up with a spinner?

“But the main thing with the quicks was that we went really negative. We started with one slip, a deep point, a deep square leg and just played on the Indians’ egos.

“That was probably the key tactical change we made in that series and it worked nicely. It was a patience game, but it came through.”

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While Australia was hammered 3-0 by Sri Lanka away from home last year, Starc was a shining light.

The left-armer finished with 24 wickets at 15.16 apiece, breaking the record for most wickets in a three-Test series by an Australia fast bowler.

With six wickets in the first Test, a career-best 11 in the second and seven in the third, Starc broke Dennis Lillee's 37-year-old mark of 23 wickets in a three-match series, achieved against England in the home summer of 1979-80. 

The overall Australian record for a three-Test series is 27 by Warne against Pakistan in 2002.

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Hazlewood said three pacemen provided selectors with enough options for India.

"I think three's plenty for a tour of India," Hazlewood said. "There hasn't been many quicks go there and be successful.

"I think we can take something out of the way Starcy bowled in Sri Lanka on similar wickets.

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"He sort of takes the pitch out of the equation sometimes with how full and fast he bowls.

"We don't all have that luxury. But we've got to find a way to be successful as a group of quicks, as well as with the spinners."

Australia sits No.2 on the ICC Test rankings following a 3-0 clean sweep in their home series against Pakistan.

However, India – led by batting maestro Virat Kohli and gun allrounder Ravichandran Ashwin – away from home is the toughest challenge in the five-day format at the moment.

“It’s a massive test and those guys are under no false illusions,” Gilchrist said.

“They’ve done well to rebuild this summer but they understand the challenges that lie ahead.

“England nearly won their first Test there then lost the series 4-0 in a five-Test series, so it’s a hard place to play but it’ll be interesting to watch Australia’s development.”