India vs Australia: Taking stock
As India and Australia do their last-minute fine tuning before the Test series begins tomorrow, The Telegraph does a SWOT analysis of the two teams.
India’s pace attack is undoubtedly their biggest strength. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have looked menacing in the warm-up games and are expected to give Australia a tough time. There’s some debate over who should be the third seamer in Ishant Sharma’s absence, but Umesh Yadav looks to be the frontrunner after an impressive outing in the first practice match. However, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj too bowled well in the pink-ball warm-up tie.
There’s no Rohit Sharma, at least for the first two Tests, and the other India openers have not been convincing enough. Mayank Agarwal is certain to be one opener, but there’s no clarity on who would be his partner. Prithvi Shaw has been in horrible form, KL Rahul’s baggage of past record in Tests go against him and Shubman Gill is untested. Without a good start at the top of the order, India might find it difficult to tackle the Aussie challenge.
Rishabh Pant did not have a good IPL with the bat, but the wicketkeeper-batsman’s sparkling century in the practice match will do his confidence a world of good and may even help him make the playing XI ahead of Wriddhiman Saha. This Test series will be his big opportunity to prove that he is a bankable option in the fiercely competitive world of Indian cricket.
Virat Kohli will only play the first Test before returning home for the birth of his first child. Kohli is not just the No.1 batsman of the side, he is also the captain. He has been the fulcrum of the Indian cricket team in the last few years. In as challenging a tour as the current one, India run the risk of losing the fight and focus without their regular captain, whose presence on the field is unmissable.
Steve Smith. When Australia lost to India in 2018-19, they did not have Smith and David Warner and that turned them into an ordinary batting unit. Both are back, though Warner will miss the first Test with injury. But it’s Smith that India will be wary of. The former captain has found his touch back. An in-form Smith does not only get runs, he does so in such a fashion that quashes the opposition’s confidence.
Like India, Australia too are struggling to zero in on their openers. Warner is unavailable at least for the first Test and Joe Burns has been having a nightmare on the pitch of late. Australia were banking on the very talented Will Pucovski to partner Marcus Harris up front, but the injury-prone youngster is yet to recover from a concussion he suffered in the first practice match.
While Smith no doubt will hog a lot of the spotlight in Australia’s batting department, the world will also be watching Marnus Labuschagne closely. Labuschagne is not just in the Smith-mould of batting, he is something more. He has already collected 1459 runs from 14 Tests at an average of 63.43. It’s Labuschagne’s time to rise.
Australia have always thrived on their aggressive brand of cricket, getting under the skin of the opposition has always been the Aussie-way of saying “Hello”. But this time, it seems they are trying to be ideal gentlemen of cricket, putting on a cloak of friendliness on the field. They hardly sledged India during the limited-overs engagements, opting for handshakes and smiles instead. One isn’t sure if such an approach will help them. It might just backfire.