The expectations are mind-boggling. India must win the Test at any cost, with or without Virat Kohli, and re-confirm the belief that this is a team that is best trained to dominate the longest format of the game. Irrespective of how hard Australia tries to make a strong statement of its endurance and depth, the onus is on India’s young brigade to ensure a finish that would give the home team the series that began on a tempestuous note following the heavy loss in the opener at Pune.
There is little buzz about the event here – the first ever Test at this captivating venue. Those busy have been the ground staff, as always, and of course the players, rightfully the central characters. It shall be a moment of reckoning for the Indian team as it looks to dominate in circumstances that most proclaim suit the Australians more. The reference to the pitch being bouncy and thus favour the visiting side is, however, the least worrying factor for the Indian camp.
This is a team that has been nurtured by Kohli and coach Anil Kumble to assume an all-weather reputation. There are specialists to perform specific roles and now is the time to test them. Even as the ground staff worked furiously to scrape the grass off the pitch one was left wondering if Indian cricket had made the progress to be rated a combination that can cause a cricket tremor, a team for all seasons.
Test of technique?
To exploit home advantage is acceptable to a certain extent. Which team would not? India has come up with playing surfaces that typify the existing nature of the pitches in the sub-continent – slow and low. Having bred on such pitches it is natural for the batsmen to adopt a different approach when confronted with a surface that allows more than average pace and bounce. That is the challenge that confronts them on the eve of the Test. What if the ball climbs at their throats? What if it deviates alarmingly and mocks at their technique to tackle seam movement?
These are questions that may need to be addressed here. Keeping in mind India’s impending assignments overseas in the next few years – Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa – it is imperative that the team takes a realistic assessment test here. Is this a team that can excel in unfriendly conditions? Kohli and Kumble would like us to believe that Indian cricket is moving in the right direction.
One encounter may not reflect on the actual strength of the team. The immediate goal is to win this series contested in extreme acrimony that has taken the sheen off the action in the middle. But then the trigger point has been the happenings on the field. Obviously, it can be put on hold since India and Australia are teams best equipped to produce cracking stuff in contemporary cricket. They would have to rise above the mundane and banal to respect the emotions of the fans who expect their heroes to be on their best behaviour.
The series has generated heat on and off the field, evoking sharp responses from the traditionalists, who prefer the game to maintain its dignity in times when the format is struggling to fight the encroachment by the T20 brand. However, the onus is on both India and Australia to prove this format is the ultimate test by producing action that befits the character and dignity of Test cricket. They owe it to their legions of fans.
(A BCCI release on Friday evening informed that Mohammed Shami has been added to the squad)
India: Virat Kohli (capt), K. L. Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Mohammed Shami and Shreyas Iyer.
Australia: Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Steve O'Keefe, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson, Jackson Bird, Usman Khawaja, Marcus Stoinis.
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