Border-Gavaskar Trophy: A mouth-watering series in the offing

Virat Kohli has been granted paternity leave by the BCCI after the first Test in Adelaide and Ajinkya Rahane will lead the Test team subsequently. Rahane can marshal his troops well. But then, Kohli, before he leaves for India, could conjure a gem in Adelaide to set the tone for the series.

Much of India’s performance in the Test series will depend on how Virat Kohli and Ajnkya Rahane, in Kohli’s absence, handle the pressure situations.   -  PTI

The Indians need to play out of their skins to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The Australians, scarred with their Test series defeat at home by Virat Kohli’s men, will be waiting to avenge. And with the run machine Steve Smith and the influential David Warner back, the Aussies will be in full strength.

In contrast to 2018-19, when Australia struggled without Smith and Warner — banned after the Sandpapergate scandal — it is India that will be without its inspirational batsman Virat Kohli for the last three Tests of the four-match series.

Kohli has been granted paternity leave by the BCCI after the first Test in Adelaide and Ajinkya Rahane will lead the Test team subsequently. And the Rohit Sharma issue, rather the confusion over this talented batsman’s participation, has further complicated matters for India. Worse, skipper Kohli is not happy with the manner the whole episode has played out. Here, clarity was the casualty.

Rohit injured his hamstring during the IPL and was initially omitted from the Test squad. He subsequently played in the IPL, without 100 per cent fitness, and was included in the Test squad. However, when everyone expected him to board the flight to Australia from Dubai immediately after the IPL, he chose to fly to Mumbai. And now he is recuperating at Bengaluru’s NCA. As things stand, Rohit will miss at least the first two Tests in Australia.

The entire episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Was there no communication between skipper Kohli and Rohit, a senior and important member of the side who had found his mojo as an aggressive Test opener?

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Then, India will be without the services of lanky and experienced paceman Ishant Sharma. He has been ruled out of the Test series with an abdominal strain. Now, Ishant played a key role in the Test series triumph, Down Under the last time around.

Tall, with a high-arm action, he can extract bounce around the off-stump area, bowl long spells, and bind the attack together. Someone such as Ishant lends stability to the attack. India, though, appears to possess depth in its ranks to compensate for the losses.

The first Test in Adelaide, beginning December 17, will be a day/night affair where the dynamics will be different. There will be a lot more movement for the pacemen, particularly under the lights. And spinners will have a lesser role in the pink ball Test.

Openers Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal are imensely talented and are capable of giving India good starts.   -  PTI

 

Australia does have a formidable attack in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson. All of them bowl at 140kmph plus and move the ball. Starc brings with him velocity, swing and the left-armer’s angle. Cummins is a solid bowler with control, pace and movement; Hazlewood hits the bat hard, can both swing and cut the ball and is accurate; Pattinson can run in aggressively and unleash thunderbolts.

The Aussie pacemen hunt as a pack, hustle batsmen with well-directed short-pitched deliveries and add to all this, comments from the slip cordon and the ’keeper — it can be hostile and intimidating in the middle.

And then, there is the tantalising off-spin of Nathan Lyon, who spins the ball and exploits the angles, gets the ball to dip and turn and, if the cracks open up on the pitch owing to the heat, can assume deadly proportions.

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The Indians have the batting to present a strong challenge to the Aussie pace attack. Prithivi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal can open the innings and K. L. Rahul could be fitted in the middle order after Kohli departs for India.

Cheteshwar Pujara, resolute in defence, with the patience to bat for days, and judicious strokeplay, stone-walled the Aussie bowling into submission on the last tour before aggressive batsmen like the dashing Rishabh Pant waded into the Australian attack.

On how Pujara manages to blunt the Aussie pacemen could hinge much of the series. On their part the Aussie pacemen could attack Pujara a lot on his body from over and round the wicket, with deliveries climbing into the batsman to prevent him from settling into a defensive rhythm.

Openers Shaw and Agarwal are men with ability and it was in Australia, during India’s triumphant campaign that the latter made such a lasting impression with his temperament, calm headed defence, judgment outside off and calculated aggression.

Shaw has a wealth of strokes, can be impulsive, but if he gets his balance of attack and defence right, he should be among the runs.

Australian Test captain Tim Paine with Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. James Pattinson completes the speed quartet and in them Australia does have a formidable attack as all of them bowl at 140kmph plus and move the ball.   -  Getty Images

 

The Adelaide Test will be followed by Melbourne [Boxing Day] Test, Sydney and Brisbane. They are the kind of wickets where Ajinkya Rahane, potentially, can be among big runs. The Aussie wickets, save Sydney, should have pace and bounce, but not much in terms of lateral movement apart from the day/night game in Adelaide, and in the first 10 overs with the Kookaburra ball.

There will be pace, yes, bounce, yes, but if the batsman has a bottom-handed grip and possesses horizontal bat shots such as the cut and the pull, he could pick boundaries.

Rahane is fluent with the cut and the pull and could come good in the series. Also, this will be an important tour for the resolute Hanuma Vihari. He will be the link between the middle and the lower orders.

India has depth in batting. The fight for the lone spinner’s spot could be intense but Ravindra Jadeja could edge out R. Ashwin because of his superior batting. Apart from bowling his left-armers with control to hold one up and build pressure in a pace-spin combination, Jadeja can field like a tiger and bat with a wonderful combination of attack and defence.

Both wicket-keeper batsmen Rishabh Pant and Wriddhimann Saha are capable with the willow while the latter, fighting to be fit, is an ace glovesman too.

Pant had a terrific series in Australia on the previous tour Down Under and could be a gale force with the willow and safe with the gloves.

Yet, Saha behind the stumps will give greater confidence to the bowlers. India has a terrific pace pack — despite the pounding in the one-day series — and Jasprit Bumrah, with his unique quick-arm long-lever action, speed, movement and bounce, is the trump card. And Mohammed Shami, fast and skiddy, with the ability to cut the ball both ways, reverse the older sphere, and hit batsmen on the knuckles with his short pitched stuff will be a key factor in bowling.

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In the absence of Ishant, India would need Umesh Yadav to step up. If he gets his line right — around off — he can cause some damage.

While the Indian openers have to stand firm in the first 10 overs of Kookaburra ball when the sphere really moves, Bumrah and Shami have to separate the Aussie opening pair of David Warner and Joe Burns in the initial overs and then make inroads to give India its best chance. But the Australian batting has depth and someone like Marcus Labuschagne has grown in stature.

The bowling will have to be backed by sharp catching in the slip cordon and gully. Edges can fly thick and fast in Australia, and lapses can be costly.

Rahane can marshal his troops well. He thinks on his feet, is proactive with his captaincy. But then, Kohli, before he leaves for India, could conjure a gem in Adelaide to set the tone for the series.

Exciting days await.