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Harbhajan's Aussie sledge: "If you play well, India will win 3-0"

Cricket

In his playing days, Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh never lacked the ability to aggravate the Australian cricket team.

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And despite his departure from the national team, following a career in which he took 417 Test wickets, he hasn’t lost it, giving Steve Smith’s men no chance of even winning a Test in the upcoming four-match series.

“If Australia play well, India will win 3-0. That is if Australia play well. Otherwise, 4-0,” he said ahead of the first Test against India in Pune starting today.

“I don’t think the wickets [in India] are going to be that easy for them,” he said.

“If the ball starts spinning from the first ball, I don’t think they will survive for long.”

Smith raised eyebrows recently when he told his side to “go for it” if they wanted to engage India captain Virat Kohli and his teammates in sledging battles.

It went against advice from former Australian great Michael Hussey, who warned of the perils of firing up Kohli, and Harbhajan is absolutely convinced that sledging will only harm Australia’s cause on the sub-continent.

“If they want to sledge, then they better be prepared for a lot of stuff from this Indian side,” he said.

“This Indian team are not going to sit back and listen. All I can say is good luck to Australia if they want to play that way.”

Spin-friendly pitches are the norm in India but a raging turner in Pune for the series opener is widely expected.

Harbhajan sees little strength in Australia’s batting, with the top six for the first Test set to feature inexperienced pair Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, and he says they don’t even come close to previous Australian outfits to have visited India.

“That Australian team in the past had so much will and belief,” he said.

“I don’t think this team has the belief to win in these conditions.

“Players like [Matthew] Hayden, [Adam] Gilchrist, [Ricky] Ponting, [Damien] Martyn, [Michael] Clarke were all top-class batters.

“[David] Warner had a great Australian summer. But can he do it overseas?

“This team – apart from Warner and Smith – I don’t think they will be able to play the game they play in Australian conditions, here in India.

“It is going to be a tough series for them.”

The only chance Australia has of causing an upset comes down to its spinners, Harbhajan believes, but he also feels the tourists aren’t good enough.

Nathan Lyon may have 228 Test wickets but the other spin options in Australia’s squad – Steve Smith (17 wickets), Steve O’Keefe (14), Glenn Maxwell (7), Ashton Agar (2) and Mitchell Swepson (0) – are all inexperienced.

“I don’t think they [spinners] have the quality to do so. It is different bowling here and bowling there [Australia],” he added.

“The speed [off the pitch] is different – they will have to adjust to that.

“You don’t get that in Australia but here you get a lot of help [off the pitch], so from the first ball you need to bowl that correct speed.

“Not many spinners have done [that] in India for the last 15 years. Only [Monty] Panesar and [Graeme] Swann did it but nobody else.”

So, in Harbhajan’s opinion, what can Australia do if their batsmen aren’t good enough and their spinners lack quality?

He says a strategy India used in 2001 when they beat the then all-conquering Australia could be re-hashed.

“Then, it was man vs man. My job was to do better than their spinner and the same with our batters. That’s the key way we succeeded,” he said.

Unfortunately for Australia, Harbhajan believes there are few battles Australia can win. Time will tell.

Guarav Joshi is a freelance cricket writer who has previously worked for Cricket Australia, ABC Radio, BBC Asia and ESPN Cricinfo. This article first appeared in The New Daily.

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