After a thorough drubbing despite having extended preparations to thrive in spin-friendly conditions, Australia will be scrambling for a fitting response against India in the second Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds here.
The innings defeat in Nagpur was its fifth against India and its third since 2010. Notwithstanding its dominance in Test matches – Australia hasn’t lost a series to any other team since 2018-19 – the capitulation signalled that it was clearly the second-best team in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and that India’s dominance in the series – if it continues to build on its 2020-21 miracle – may continue for some time to come.
To be sure, Australia did not stumble right from the get go. The batters were enterprising and creative in negotiating spin, but lost the plot midway through the first innings. They played turn well but fell to deliveries that did not turn as anticipated; on the other hand, on a third-day track in the second innings, batters fell to sharp spin. Given the fact that the pitch wasn’t its nemesis for the most part, the threat lay in the quality of bowling itself: Australia will have to quickly find a way out to thwart R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who took 15 wickets between them.
Just as in Nagpur, the pitch here is likely to assist spin but won’t be a rank turner. There was a yellowish tinge visible on a large chunk of the pitch in the middle, and blackish hue towards either end. In the seven Tests played between the two sides here, Australia has won just one – in 1959 – and lost three, including the last one played here in March 2013 when, again, Ashwin and Jadeja were the mischief makers.
Pat Cummins admitted at a press conference on Thursday that batters may look for ways to put pressure on the bowlers to give themselves a chance to thrive. As a team, too, the approach might be an aggressive one.
“I think when you’re ahead of the game, it’s really hard for the opposition to get themselves back in and that’s going to be the challenge. If we are behind the times, how can we put pressure back into their dressing room? I think once you put pressure back on the bowlers, suddenly you don’t get as many good balls and the scoreboard keeps ticking over… fields change. So that’s certainly been part of the discussion,” he said.
Much as this Test will test Cummins’ pedigree as captain – both of his losses as captain have been in the subcontinent – it will challenge Nathan Lyon to rediscover his form in India. Lyon, who picked up just one wicket in 49 overs in Nagpur, can look to his own performance here as inspiration: a decade ago, he had picked up seven for 94 – till date, his second-best career figures. Todd Murphy, on debut, hogged the limelight, but the two spinners will have to hunt in pairs to make an impact. In a bid to field the best XI for the conditions, Matt Kuhnemann could be asked to debut or Ashton Agar could get a game, with Mitchell Starc missing out. If all-rounder Cameron Green isn’t fit, however, Starc is likely to remain in the XI.
Among the batters, the onus will be on David Warner and Steve Smith – the two most experienced batters in India – to show their teammates the way and lay a solid foundation.
India, on the other hand, has all bases covered. And with the inclusion of Shreyas Iyer to the squad – the batter has recovered sufficiently from a back injury – Suryakumar Yadav, who fell for 8 in Nagpur, could miss out.
The Test will be crucial in the race for a spot in the final of the second World Test Championship. And it will be a special occasion for Cheteshwar Pujara as it is the 100th Test of his career.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), K. L. Rahul, R. Ashwin, S. Bharat (wk), Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Axar Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shubman Gill, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav.
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matthew Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, David Warner.
Match starts at 9:30 AM IST.
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