Test cricket returns to India after 11 months. And perhaps almost in celebration, a 40,000-strong crowd is ready to greet local lad Rohit Sharma and his boys at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur, when they take on the mighty Australian team in the first of four Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy from Thursday.
When Rohit was reminded during the press conference that it is almost a full-house – only 5,000 seats remain – with one full day to go for the game, he only saw the development as good news for Test cricket. “It feels good that so many people are coming for day one. They should come to all the venues (to cheer for us) and not just Nagpur. If people come, it feels great. People still want to watch good Test cricket.”
Only time will tell whether it will be a “good” Test, in line with what the Indian captain is expecting. But it will be one with higher stakes than ever, for sure.
‘Not thinking about WTC final yet’
With the World Test Championship final in Oval, a few months away, India and Australia look primed to finish top two in the standings. The Baggy Green are a step closer, requiring to come off with only a draw from this series to ensure qualification. India, on the other hand, has to register a minimum of three wins to ensure a higher win percentage and steer clear of South Africa and Sri Lanka. Any other scoreline, if not better, will see it wait until March for the Proteas to take on West Indies and the Lankans to clash with New Zealand.
Rohit, however, isn’t willing to break his head over all the possible equations. “Honestly, we haven’t spoken too much about that (WTC qualification scenarios). We will just try to do well in this series and see what happens. It is too far ahead to think about it now. There are a lot of calculations. We don’t want to get into that. We just want to focus on how we can win each Test match because we are playing in different venues. And each of them will present different challenges. None of the guys in the changing room or team room have been talking about it.”
The Indian tracks, most of which are traditionally known to favour spin heavily, have been much talked about in the lead-up to the series. The Australian media and a few former players like Ian Healy have been critical of Indian groundsmen allegedly preparing ‘doctored wickets’.
Rohit, however, is unfazed by all the chatter. He said, “I just feel that we’ve got to focus on the cricket that is going to be played here over the next five days and not worry too much about the pitch. In the last series we played here, a lot was spoken about the pitches. All 22 cricketers who are going to play are quality cricketers. So we shouldn’t worry too much about how the pitch is going to be like, how much it is turning, seaming or things like that. We are just going to come out and play good cricket.”
Rohit was insistent on keeping his cards close to his chest, saying that the playing eleven for the first Test will only be made known at the toss. With vice-captain KL Rahul all but confirmed to open alongside him and Shreyas Iyer out with a back injury, there will be a toss up between Shubman Gill, who is in the form of his life, and Suryakumar Yadav, the No. 1 T20 batter, for the No. 5 spot. Also, with spinning all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin almost certain to play, only one between Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav may make the cut.
Rohit said, “It is going to be a tough one (selection). We know a lot of guys are in good form. It is a good sign for the team. When you have selection issues, that says a lot about how the guys are performing. What we have to do is we have to go to each venue, check the conditions and pick the best eleven. We are ready to play horses for courses.”
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