India's best chance for maiden series win Down Under

India's best chance for maiden series win Down Under

Australia cricket captain Tim Paine (R) and India cricket captain Virat Kohli (L) pose with the Border Gavaskar trophy ahead of the first Test at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide on December 5, 2018. (AFP Photo)

It may appear India’s best chance ever to win a Test series Down Under. Caught between playing their aggressive brand of cricket and the need to present a good image of themselves, Australia find themselves in a state of confusion if not the proverbial catch-22 situation. It would, however, be naïve to write even a seemingly vulnerable Australia off given India’s record on the road this year.

Tim Paine, the level-headed young man at the helm of team’s affairs, has captained the side post the ball-tampering saga more like a shrewd diplomat negotiating difficult situations than a hard-nosed Australian who won matches in all climes and conditions but made few friends across cricketing sphere. Their new style of play, which is bereft of aggressive body language and verbal volleys, has amused and endeared different sections of people. Rival captains, from Faf du Plessis to Virat Kohli, have spoken of the necessity to stay natural without crossing the line while former Australian cricketers are divided as to how they should approach their game.

It remains to be seen how the hosts manage to strike a balance between being true to their nature and the demand to portray Australian cricket in an acceptable manner. The Indian team, however, seem little distracted by the happenings in the home camp. If anything, they are exhibiting a quiet confidence that’s in stark contrast to their boastfulness in the previous two series to South Africa and England. Chastened by the 1-2 and 1-4 defeats, they are prudent in their talks and practical in their own expectations.

With two of their nemeses – Steven Smith and David Warner – in their last visit of Australia out of the team, India do realise that it’s their best chance to draw the first blood. And they couldn’t have asked for a better setting in Adelaide Oval, the venue for the first of the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy beginning here from Thursday. At personal level, skipper Kohli and a few other batsmen have good memories of the venue where they came close to winning the Test in 2014. The brownish pitch, that is expected to behave more like an Ahmedabad pitch than an Adelaide surface, India know they have the men and the means to pin a depleted Australia to the mat.

Having announced a 12-man squad, India have made it clear that they would go with six batsmen and four bowlers with the sixth batting slot to be a toss up between Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari. Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will be the pacers while R Ashwin, who was ignored here in 2014 and agonisingly saw off-spinner Nathan Lyon grab 13 wickets for the match on a turning track in Australia’s win, is expectedly back in the side. With the pitch likely to assist spin as the game progresses, he will have a crucial role to play.

The spotlight will also be on K L Rahul, who showed signs of returning to form with a half-century in the second innings of the lone practice game. He will partner M Vijay who too had a good outing here last time, narrowly missing out on a century. In fact, it was his dismissal that had triggered a stunning Indian collapse, engineered by Lyon. He will be key to Australia’s fortunes again, but their pace unit is no less lethal. In left-armer Mitchell Starc and right-arm quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, they not only have variety but quality as well. All three bring different skill sets to the table and the Indian batsmen, despite their experience, know their job is as tough as they have encountered anywhere.

DH News Service

Teams (Australia 11): Tim Paine (capt, wk), Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.   

India 12: Virat Kohli (capt), K L Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-capt), Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.