Australia’s newest and 10th Test venue -- the Optus Stadium -- is as imposing in its size as it’s magnificent in its beauty. The three-tier gorgeous ground is a modern architectural wonder and the latest addition to Australia’s collection of world-class stadiums.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli was impressed by the look of the stadium but appeared hardly overawed by the gargantuan structure. He was equally unfazed by the amount of grass on the pitch which was so green that it was hard to distinguish it from the lush outfield. If anything, he was only excited to see a green track, aware in the fact that he has a pace attack that’s capable of paying the Aussies back in kind.
Given the look of the pitch, which should have the pacers licking their lips, Kohli will not be sweating too much over R Ashwin’s non-availability for the second Test beginning here from Friday. The off-spinner has been ruled out due to left abdominal strain. Rohit Sharma, who jarred his back while fielding on the final day of the first Test, also has been left out of the squad along with a still-recovering opener Prithvi Shaw.
The team deviated from its recent practice of naming the 12-man squad for the Test and instead announced a 13-player side, giving themselves the option of three combinations -- all-pace attack with Hanuma Vihari who gives part-time off-spin back-up; three pacers and Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin with Vihari coming in for Rohit or four pacers and Jadeja who gives more than a handy batting cushion. If the grass is retained, India may not require four pacers to do the job for them. The three – Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami – who did the duty in Adelaide can be relied upon to deliver again with Jadeja coming in to play if the pitch cracks up under searing conditions. Perth is expected to scorch at 38 degrees Celsius on Friday. The inclusion of Jadeja and Vihari also shores up their batting which can be crucial on a pitch like this.
Once again, the start will be crucial for India with the bat. K L Rahul and M Vijay came up with a much-improved show in the second innings in Adelaide, raising their first half-century stand in an away Test. This not only put the batsmen in the change room in a much better mental shape but also ensured they were up against less hostile bowlers and ball. With the pitch expected to offer pace and bounce and swing and seam, it’s likely to be another low-scoring affair and may not last the length of a Test match.
Australia too are well-equipped in attack but it’s the gap in the batting depths of each team that can be the game-changer. Four of Australia’s seven top-order batsmen that featured in the first Test have a combined experience of 21 Tests out of whom three have appeared in combined seven Tests.
Only skipper Tim Paine, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh have played 15 or more Tests which fares poorly against Indian batsmen. They have, however, reposed their faith in the same batsmen by retaining the 11 that played in Adelaide.
On the other hand, the depth and quality in the visiting camp are enormous, and, like in Adelaide, it may all boil down to who bats better in these challenging conditions. With runs going to be a premium, India can do with some sensible batting by Rishabh Pant and lower-order, something they can learn from Australia’s tail. Pant needs to curb some of his aggression that borders on recklessness while the tail has to show some spunk to stay in the middle. In low-scoring matches, it’s always the lower-order contribution that proves a clincher.
Teams (Australia 11): 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’s 13: Virat Kohli (capt), K L Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-capt), Rishabh Pant (wk) Hanuma Vihari, R Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav.