December 6 to 10, 05:30 IST
Live on SPN, streaming on SonyLiv
The main picture
The pre-Test series talk has all been about this being India’s best chance to win against Australia Down Under and why Virat Kohli and co. start as the favourite. This suggestion is bordering on absurdity even allowing for the fact that Australia are not at full-strength in the absence of their two premier batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner.
“In the Ashes, they almost whitewashed England, knocked them over, and so, as far as I’m concerned, they are starting favourites,” Ravichandran Ashwin said in an interview after arriving in Australia, essentially suggesting that Australia are difficult to beat in their home conditions.
Among the reasons is the batsmen who have been named in the squad (opening batsman Marcus Harris, for example) are good enough to play for the national team and, playing in home conditions, they will be as difficult to dismiss as Smith and Warner might have been. Secondly, Australia have a strong bowling attack—Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon are likely to play the first Test—and India’s batting line-up has failed to fire collectively on the two previous overseas tours this year. On the 2014-15 tour, Kohli alone made 692 runs in four Tests, yet India lost 2-0, which again emphasises the size of the proposition for the Indian batsmen and for India to win a Test series in Australia.
India have a strong bowling attack themselves and the team management has as many as eight options to choose from. But the conditions in Australia will not be as helpful as in England, where the weather was cooler and the ball swung and seamed consistently. In Australia, the Indian bowlers will have to keep persevering on benign pitches—three of the venues (except Sydney Cricket Ground) use drop-in pitches, which usually don’t offer much lateral movement—and in baking sunshine. The Indian bowling attack has struggled to dislodge the lower-order batsmen after having South Africa and England, on those tours, on the mat. Cummins and Starc in the Australian lower-order will be just as obdurate as Sam Curran, Vernon Philander and Adil Rashid.
Under the then stand-in captain, Virat Kohli, India put in a strong performance at Adelaide Oval in 2014-15, when they went close to beating Australia in the first Test of that series, eventually losing by 48 runs in a failed run-chase of 364. The senior members in the current squad were part of that Test match and so, they have the experience and will know what to expect.
The last eight, nine months have been disruptive for Australian cricket in general, in the aftermath of the sandpaper gate. But the Tim Paine-led group of players will be motivated by facing the No. 1-ranked Test team. The home team will be happy to have Usman Khawaja available for the first Test. His participation was in doubt after he suffered a meniscal tear on his left knee during the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE. He has been Australia’s best Test batsman this year and is the glue to the batting line-up. Victorian opening batsman, Harris, has earned a place in the Test squad on the back of big runs this Sheffield Shield season. He is likely to open the batting with Aaron Finch in a batting line-up that is also likely to feature the Marsh brothers and either Travis Head or Peter Handscomb.
If you’re a fan, you don’t need much to rev yourself up for the Test series starting Thursday (December 6). We can expect a seesaw battle between two teams who are in different situations but have the same uncertainty about them, and so, either of them can win it.
Adelaide Oval pitch report and weather forecast
As aforementioned, a drop-in pitch is used at Adelaide Oval, where Australia have played three day-night Tests (against New Zealand in 2015, South Africa in 2016 and England in 2017) in the last four years. Cricket Australia had shown an interest to stage a day-night Test between the two teams on this tour, but the Indian cricket board (BCCI) refused to the arrangement. Coming back to the conditions, the pink ball swung and seamed prodigiously once the floodlights came on. This will be the first traditional Test match at Adelaide Oval since these two teams last met in December 2014.
Speaking to The Weekend Australian, the Adelaide Oval pitch curator, Damien Hough, said, “We won’t do anything differently. The preparation will be the same. The only difference is we get the covers off earlier and we start earlier. “We do the same preparation for red-ball cricket and pink-ball cricket at Shield level. The best way to get an even contest is to leave some grass on there and get that balance between bat and ball. Right now, we really feel that this is where it’s at for the pitch.”
Whether the pitch sports a bit of grass or not, the best way for either side to win will be to bat first and post a big first-innings score.
The forecast says that all five days of the Test will be clear and sunny, with the temperature hovering in the late-20s to early-30s (degree Celsius).
Probable India vs Australia playing 11 for 1st Test
The Australian selectors led by the chairman, Trevor Hohns, named a 14-man squad for the first two Tests against India. The team management have announced the XI for the first Test.
Confirmed Australia playing XI: 1 Tim Paine (c & wk), 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Marcus Harris, 4 Usman Khawaja, 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Travis Head, 7 Peter Handscomb, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
The Indian team management does not have as easy a job. Prithvi Shaw’s lateral ligament left ankle injury means Murali Vijay and KL Rahul will be the two openers for the first Test. Then, India must choose between Hanuma Vihari and Rohit Sharma for the No. 6 slot in the line-up. Vihari didn’t play the two home Tests against the West Indies after making his Test debut against England at The Oval. India must also choose from Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for the spinner-cum-all-rounder’s slot in the absence of Hardik Pandya. Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma are likely to be the three fast bowlers in the playing XI, though the potential absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar weakens the batting.
Possible India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ishant Sharma
Both teams are likely to prefer batting first on what should be a good pitch for batting. Winning the toss, therefore, offers a tangible advantage, though the team batting first must capitalise and make a big first-innings score. The first-innings total could be the difference between winning and losing, with the pitch potentially becoming progressively difficult for batting.