India vs Australia: Kohli holds key as India gears up for opening salvo

A tantalising series for the Gavaskar-Border Trophy awaits its riveting opening frame as India takes on spirited Australia.

Virat Kohli knows that gushing praise and his lone-ranger act cannot secure a triumph against the Aussies. His support-cast has to perform too.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The air around the Adelaide Oval is remarkably pastoral despite the city’s central business district being a stone’s throw away. Tree-lined avenues, the nearby Torrens River, occasionally stirred by a rower or a bird diving in for a nibble, are all part of an Instagram-friendly setting.

Inside the Oval’s complex, ivy-lined walls dish out some history. The 1932-33 Bodyline series, a fiery Mitchell Johnson and an exultant Shane Warne are all frozen through black and white photographs.

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In this sporting theatre fringed by grass-banks and with the weather-forecast hinting at sunny days, the odd cloud and a high of 36 degrees, India and Australia will revive their cricketing rivalry, donning whites.

The first Test of a four-game series, that commences here on Thursday, had a slow, simmering build-up. The rival units trained with purpose, eschewed fancy words and host skipper Tim Paine leant on Steve Waugh, the flint-eyed cricketing warrior of yore, for inputs.

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Incidentally, it was at this ground that Waugh subtly anointed his successor in the field of tough runs. During the December Test in 2003, Rahul Dravid (233 and 72 n.o.) struck the winning shot. Waugh jogged towards the fence, retrieved the ball and handed the memento to Dravid.

Indian batsmen have had their moments in Adelaide. In 1992, Mohammad Azharuddin scored a splendid 106 in a lost chase. A sub-editor in an Indian paper, moved by the regal knock, issued this head-line: ‘Ah-Czar!’ Among the willow-wielders, Virat Kohli has been the most luminous. He scored his maiden Test ton here in 2012, and in 2014, Kohli slammed 115 and 141!

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Supporting cast to the fore

And when the visiting captain walked in for his pre-match press conference, an Australian journalist whispered: “The world’s best batsman!”

Kohli knows that gushing praise and his lone-ranger act cannot secure a triumph against the Aussies. His support-cast has to perform too. It has to start with the openers.

In the nets, K.L. Rahul kept swaying away from a tennis ball aimed at his head by batting coach Sanjay Bangar while Murali Vijay polished his sweep, perhaps aimed to counter off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane will also have to provide ballast.

The playing unit got some shape as the team-management revealed the 12. The toss-up may be between Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari. India will step in with pacers Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah with R. Ashwin being the lone spinner.

Well-rounded bowling attack

Tim Paine has a terrific fast bowling trio in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.   -  getty images

 

The sun-baked pitch, golden brown and with just a sparse hint of green, could offer runs to the batsmen willing to battle against the speedsters while spinners are bound to get some purchase gradually.

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In 2014, Lyon bagged 12 wickets while India lost the Test by 48 runs. He could also exploit the rough created by left-arm spearhead Mitchell Starc.
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In the rival flank, Marcus Harris will debut as an opener and there will be pressure on Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh to mask the absence of the banned duo of Steve Smith and David Warner. 

Paine has a terrific fast bowling trio in Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. And Lyon, once part of the ground-staff at this venue, knows the surface intimately.

A tantalising series for the Gavaskar-Border Trophy awaits its riveting opening frame.