Test of patience: Jones says the waiting game is best route to success in India
Right spirit ... Allan Border. Photo: Ray Kennedy
Australia's touring party to India in 1986 lived by the following motto: lose patience and lose the battle. It was a maxim, drummed into them by Bob Simpson that they clung to on and off the ground, and which Michael Clarke's team would do well to abide by in its quest for only a second series win in 40 years in the sport's most challenging terrain.
Officially, the stoush for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy begins on Friday at the 50,000-capacity M. A. Chidambaram Stadium but, in terms of acclimatisation, the assignment is already under way. John Buchanan, the former Australian head coach, calls it sensory overload: the interminable screeching of vehicular horns on clogged, disorganised streets, the cattle wandering outside the stadium's main gate, the stench of Chennai's Buckingham Canal, the food, the constant demand for autographs.
Here, for instance, it takes three days, and endless paperwork, to get your hands on a sim card. The heaving, chaotic southern metropolis of 5 million, a snapshot of India itself, works in its own mysterious ways.
Dean Jones, who made his life-changing and life-threatening 210 on the ground where the series starts, knows as well as anyone the task awaiting Clarke's men in the Tamil Nadu state capital. In extreme September heat and humidity, he went to hell and back – vomiting, urinating involuntarily and enduring severe stomach discomfort before being taken to hospital after that double century in the tied Test 26 years ago. Teammates had to help him into the showers between sessions and shoved him back out towards the middle.
The weather will be more forgiving over the next five days of Australia's mission but like Allan Border's 1986 visitors, patience will again be key, Jones believes, particularly when Clarke's batsmen face a barrage of Indian spin.
"It can be overwhelming," said Jones, who is in India for media commitments throughout the series. "This is where they've got to really focus and put the blinkers on. It's still a ball, it just doesn't bounce as much and it will turn a bit. India will find a weakness in your game if you don't stare it straight in the face and adapt."
Australia have won only once in Chennai, in 1969. Against a host nation on the slide – India have slumped to fifth in the Test rankings and are under enormous pressure at home – they have gone against the tide to include three fast bowlers and a fourth seamer – all-rounder and debutant Moises Henriques. On a pitch that looks like it hasn't seen grass since the Emergency, the ploy could end up going one of two ways. Masterstroke or disaster.
Jones sees great similarities to Border's team, who drew 0-0 over 25 years ago, in terms of personnel. Only three of the current XI – Clarke, Shane Watson and Peter Siddle – have played a Test in India. Border's men were also largely novices here. Jones's epic was scored in only his third Test. He said the same principles applied.
"We had a motto in '86 and it was 'lose patience and lose the battle,' " Jones said. "That goes back to the way you treat the waiters, the way you treat the people. We were actually the first to enjoy it there. Previously you were told it was a bugger of a place, you get sick, and players were mentally psyched out before they even got there."
Nowadays, an arrivals hall at an Indian airport is not foreign to an Australian cricketer. The Indian Premier League and Champions League have changed that and a Test player's experience outside the ground can be highly sanitised: they will rarely stray from either the hotel, the team bus or the venue.
Some Australians have been in India for a fortnight preparing for what is lobbed at them from Friday. The need to adapt is elevated but so are the rewards. Watson, Australia's vice-captain, said a series win in India would match anything he has been involved in.
"It's been good for the guys to see the conditions," Clarke said. "A lot of the guys have played in the shorter form of the game over in India but they haven't played against the red ball. It's never easy to play here, and for Australia it's always been a hard place to have success.
"I think the IPL and Champions League has played a huge part in international players getting used to the country, conditions you play in, the climate, the food you eat, the hotels you stay in, the culture. Just about everybody in the squad has been to India. They mightn't have played Test cricket but they've been here."