India vs Australia, 1st Test: Play well to tame the pitch
Speculation surrounding the nature of the pitch has gained precedence over team strategies in the lead-up to the first Test against Australia beginning in Nagpur on Thursday.
Test matches being defined by the wicket and charges of pitch-doctoring levelled by the visiting team and its media are nothing new in the subcontinent. Not much was read into the circumstances when a recent Test at the Gabba against South Africa ended within two days but a near similar instance in India always attracts more attention.
The pitch at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha appears reasonably well-watered, with a smattering of grass, except for two bare areas. These patches, outside the left-handers’ off stump, could have been a result of less watering or less rolling and mowing.
These drier areas will experience wear and tear and left-handers are expected to find the going tough once the ball pitches on those rough spots. The visitors will face the music in such a scenario since there could be up to six left-handers in their top eight if Matt Renshaw and Ashton Agar are in the XI.
Pat Cummins was diplomatic about the pitch. “I think it looks a little bit dry for the left-handers and knowing how much traffic will probably go through there from the right-arm bowlers (from over the wicket). Yeah, potentially (there) might be a fair bit of rough out there. So, again, that’s something you’ve just got to embrace.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be challenging at times,” said the Australia captain.
Rohit Sharma’s emphasis was on playing good cricket. “Speaking about the doctored wicket, I just feel that you’ve got to focus on the cricket that’s going to be played for the next five days, and not worry too much about the pitch...
“I think all 22 cricketers who are going to play, they are all quality cricketers, so not to worry too much about what the pitch is going to be like, how much is it turning, how much is it seaming... You’ve got to just come out and play good cricket,” the India captain said.
India’s team combination has attracted equal importance. It is still unclear as to who will open the innings with Rohit. Shubman Gill has had an impressive run since the Bangladesh tour and justifies his selection on form. It remains to be seen if vice-captain KL Rahul is preferred as an opener or is dropped down the order to No.5.
That will mean Suryakumar Yadav will not make his debut in Test cricket in Nagpur. “Gill has been in supreme form over the last three to four months, lots of big hundreds as well. On the other hand, Surya as well has shown what he is capable of in T20 cricket and what sort of game he can bring to Test cricket as well,” Rohit said.
The other two spots up for grabs include a spinner’s berth and the wicketkeeper. While Ravichandran Ashwin and a fit Ravindra Jadeja select themselves, the choice will be between Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel. In Rishabh Pant’s absence, it will be a toss-up between KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan.
India must win at least three Tests to put their qualification for the World Test Championship final beyond doubt.
Match starts at 9:30am