A gargantuan black forest cake with a vanilla topping, that’s the first impression which springs to mind when the Optus Stadium looms ahead while the taxi ferrying cricket writers draws close to the venue. The outer wall is a melange of chocolate brown shades interspersed with streaks of glass and the roof sports a creamy white hue.
Perth’s latest cricketing venue, the ultra-modern successor to the more traditional WACA, is set for its maiden five-day match when India and Australia clash in the second Test here from Friday. There is grass on the pitch, a scalding sun above and the weather forecast dryly states: “38 degrees, very hot, and mostly sunny.”
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Virat Kohli’s men arrive with a 1-0 lead in the four-game series. The second clash is about maximising the advantages gleaned from the first humdinger at Adelaide but the visitors have some worries. Rohit Sharma, as suspected, has been ruled out as he jarred his back in the first Test. But a bigger blow was when R. Ashwin, who bowled those economical spells and bagged six wickets at Adelaide, was benched due to a left-side abdominal strain.
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Ashwin will be missed and it is evident that the new turf’s fondness for pace, has forced the team-management to be flexible with the bowling options. Curator Brett Sipthorpe said that the pitch is “very much the same as across the road”. He was alluding to the WACA. “It’s basically what we have been asked to do — provide pace, bounce, and a bit of live grass,” Sipthorpe said.
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The 13-member India squad picked for the Test, has Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja and the full quotient of five fast bowlers ranging from Ishant Sharma to Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It remains to be seen if Kohli would pick a quartet of speedsters and bank on Vihari’s off-spin as back-up, or whether he will opt for a straight swap between Ashwin and Jadeja and just have three fast bowlers.
India’s top-order is settled and the opening combine of M. Vijay and K.L. Rahul will continue as Prithvi Shaw is still nursing his injured ankle. Kohli can draw cheer from Cheteshwar Pujara’s splendid form at Adelaide and the way the rest batted in the second innings. Be it Rahul or Ajinkya Rahane, most of them spent a reasonable tenure at the crease.
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The skipper, by his standards, may have slipped – three and 34, but he is remarkably confident. India, however, should avoid poor shot-selection around the off-stump against the Australian troika of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. The malady was in vogue during the first Test’s opening day, when the visitors were reduced to 41 for four in 20.2 overs. Pujara’s stirring hundred salvaged the innings before the bowlers stepped in and choked Tim Paine’s men.
The host, fielding an unchanged eleven, is seeking batting solidity. In the previous game, Opener Marcus Harris tided past a debutant’s nerves and dished out cameos while Aaron Finch failed twice. Shaun Marsh, to quote a local paper’s headline prefers the ‘feast or the famine’ and it was evident in his two and 60. Usman Khawaja has to fire too. Travis Head resisted a bit and the tail showed enormous heart in the opening fixture. These traits need to be displayed again.
Australia’s bowlers emerged second-best to India and it is a trend the host hopes to reverse inside a mint-fresh three-tiered stadium with a 60,000 capacity. With the time-difference having shrunk to two and a half hours with India, Kohli’s men might feel closer home. Yet, this is a long tour and the good work at Adelaide needs incremental growth. For now the grass is greenest at the Optus Stadium and a tough scrutiny awaits batsmen on either side.
- India (the selected 13): Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav.
- Australia (the playing 11): Tim Paine (captain), Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood.
- Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Chris Gaffaney; Third Umpire: Nigel Llong; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
- Start of play: 10.20 a.m. local time, 7.50 a.m. IST.
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