This Border-Gavaskar Trophy promised an intriguing battle between the top two Test nations in the world. But Australia’s barebones batting and India’s unparalleled home dominance — India has lost only 2 out of 43 Test matches at home in the last 10 years — have rendered it a one-sided fight. Australia will have another crack at staying alive in the series when the third Test gets underway at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore from Wednesday.
After a rewarding 12 months in which the Australians played Test cricket in a manner befitting their No. 1 tag, both home and away, they have once again been fragile and susceptible against their old foe- ‘spin’.
Starc, Green set to return
But they have a reason to smile, and there haven’t been plenty since they landed on Indian shores. Cameron Green has declared himself “100 per cent ready to go” to play his first-ever Test in India. Australia would hope the allrounder can not only bolster a misfiring top-order, but also add cutting edge to a bowling attack that has otherwise been toothless so far.
Mitchell Starc should add bowling heft too. Although he has admitted he still has discomfort in his injured finger, Starc reckons “workload-wise, body-wise”, there is no concern at all.
The duo’s return is a welcome boost for Australia, especially when Cummins, opener David Warner and fast bowler Josh Hazlewood have flown home due to personal reasons and injury concerns.
The shot selection of the Australian batters will also be in focus after criticism was levelled at them through the second innings collapse of 28 for 8 during the second Test in Delhi when a clutch of batters fell trying to play the sweep on a wicket with inconsistent bounce. While Steve Smith, Australia’s stand-in skipper for the third Test, acknowledged the folly of the preconceived notion of playing sweeps to India’s spinners, he reiterated that some Aussie batters like playing the sweep shot and should stick to their strengths.
“India is one of the hardest places to start your innings,” said Smith. “So, once you are in, you must make it count. Delhi was a tough place to employ the sweep. This wicket looks like the ones used for the first two games. It’s dry from around a six-meter length to the crease at either end. It will take spin – just how much turn, we have to wait and watch.”
With its performance turning pale as the series goes deeper, Australia will not only have to contend with a probing Indian bowling attack but also questions surrounding the fitness of its players and their concentration. Smith kept cards close to his chest but suggested that Australia could consider playing three specialist spinners.
Gill or Rahul
India has a more settled playing XI. However, the jury is still out on who would accompany skipper Rohit Sharma to the crease.
Rohit and Shubman Gill batted together in the nets on Tuesday after Gill and KL Rahul had spent significant time batting side by side just a day prior. Gill was fed a steady diet of left-arm pace bowling under the watchful eyes of batting coach Vikram Rathour. When Ishan Kishan took his place in the nets, Gill moved to another practice pitch, where head coach Rahul Dravid’s bowling arm got a good workout. Shortly after, Gill practised catching at short leg. While these may seem like giveaways, Rohit remained non-committal about the makeup of the opening pair.
“When we talk about players going through a tough phase, anyone with potential will be given enough time to prove themselves. Rahul’s removal from vice-captaincy doesn’t indicate anything. Both Gill and Rahul train this way before every game. I have not finalised the 11 yet; want to do it at the toss because last-minute injuries happen,” Rohit said.
He also hinted that the team could request a green pitch for the final Test in Ahmedabad if it wins in Indore and confirms its place in the WTC final, which will be played at The Oval from June 7 to 11.
Meanwhile, Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling record in Indore is also bound to make matters more difficult for the visiting side. He has 18 wickets at 12.5 in his two Tests, including a player-of-the-match performance against New Zealand.
On the eve of the Test match, the pitch had grass in the middle and bald patches around it. The Australian batters would perhaps be more concerned about how the ball behaves once it lands on those patches. The pitch was watered selectively. The areas on either side of the stumps were kept slightly dry, and the line of the stumps was watered and rolled. Dravid spent 15 minutes surveying the good length area before walking over to the practice pitches on the edge of the outfield, where he oversaw Rohit’s batting session.
Australia has played just once in Indore, an ODI in 2017, which it lost by five wickets. Should it lose this series 4-0 to India, it could still miss out on a WTC final spot if Sri Lanka were to beat New Zealand 2-0 in March. Smith’s men must be ready for whatever hostilities India might dish out in front of a likely sold-out Holkar Stadium on the first day.