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The Times of India
The Times of India
Arani Basu | TNN

Border-Gavaskar Trophy: India focus on sweep shot, ponder over left-handed batting options ahead of Australia Tests

NEW DELHI: The touring Australia team isn't shying away from making bold statements ahead of the Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

The Australians ramped up their preparation with SG balls at home, made accusations about BCCI's 'tendency to sabotage practice games' on previous tours and then landed in India to train at a secluded venue in Alur. It's all about avenging two consecutive Test series defeats at home in the last four years.

Yet, somehow, it's the Indian team that has been forced to get into a huddle and work overtime to redraw their plans for a home series. Indian batters' struggles against spin has become somewhat chronic. With Rishabh Pant ruled out of the series, India have lost their counterattacking trump card against spin. Hence, the dilemma.

The first problem will arise if they play on rank turners, as has been the trend over the last decade.

Sources have told TOI that curators across the four venues have been asked to go ahead and make pitches that ensure "good Test cricket" over the full five days. The second quandary is to balance the team, now that Pant is out of the equation. The selectors have turned to Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan to make up for Pant's absence.

But here's the catch. India are used to playing five bowlers in Test matches. The team management is yet to be convinced wicketkeeper KS Bharat could be an option to bat in the top 6. The team management was keen on having a left-handed option in the middle-order. In this scenario, Ravindra Jadeja recently proving his match fitness has come as a relief.

Jadeja has been India's most consistent Test batter after Pant in the last two years and suggestions are that if needed, he may bat in the top six. This may allow India to bat deep and play five bowlers, with the likes of Axar Patel and R Ashwin manning the lower order.

Rejig needed in batting

While history suggests that teams from SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) have resorted to employing the sweep shot in India, the India team management is also banking on Suryakumar and Ishan's ability to sweep to make up for Pant's counter-attacking game.

Shreyas Iyer seems to be a doubtful starter for the first Test in Nagpur next Thursday but the selectors are unlikely to name a replacement and Surya's case becomes stronger. It will be interesting to see if Shubman Gill is trusted to bat in the middle order, something that the selectors and team management have deliberated on for some time now.

1/10:​Border-Gavaskar Trophy: All records

2/10:Most Runs: ​Sachin Tendulkar (India): 3262 runs

<p>Not surprisingly, Sachin Tendulkar still leads the charts here. Sachin was invincible against the mighty Aussies and would regularly smack the likes of Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, and others all over the park. In 34 Tests vs Australia, Sachin scored 3262 runs at an average of 56.24 and struck 9 hundreds which is the most by any player in Border-Gavaskar Trophy.</p>

3/10:Ricky Ponting (Australia): 2555 runs

<p>One of the best captains and batsmen of all time, Ponting is the highest run scorer for Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. 'Punter' was a regular nightmare for the Indian bowlers. His iconic pull shots were the highlights of his gameplay. In 29 Tests vs India, he scored 2555 runs at an average of 54.36 and had 8 hundreds under his belt.<br /></p>

4/10:VVS Laxman (India): 2434 runs

<p>When it comes to perfect stroke playing and elegance, Laxman was tailor-made for that job. He was a regular nemesis of the Aussies. The unforgettable knock at the Eden Gardens in 2001 of 281 in a partnership of 376 with Dravid, which led to India’s historic victory was played against the Aussies. In 29 Tests vs Aus, Laxman struck 2434 runs at an average of 49.67 and had 6 centuries.<br /></p>

5/10:Rahul Dravid (India): 2143 runs

<p>One of India’s most reliable batsmen, Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid was rock solid at the crease and played on for his team. His 180 in the partnership with Laxman in the 2001 Kolkata Test vs Australia was crucial. In 2008 he frustrated the Aussies with his solid defense, taking 40 balls to open his account. In 32 Tests vs Aus, Dravid scored 2143 runs at an average of 39.68 and had 2 hundreds.<br /></p>Getty Images

6/10:Michael Clarke (Australia): 2049 runs

<p>Clarke was a run-machine for the Aussies and was particularly prolific against India. One of his most iconic knocks was played in 2012 at Sydney when he struck a mammoth 329* vs India. He was one of the few Aussies who was adept at playing spin, especially on tough turning Indian tracks. In 22 Tests vs India, Clarke scored 2049 runs at an average of 53.92 and struck 7 hundreds.</p>Getty Images

7/10:Most wickets in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy

8/10:Anil Kumble (India): 111 wickets

<p>Kumble is regarded as one of the best spinners to have played the game. 'Jumbo' leads the charts of most wickets in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Against Australia, Kumble scalped 111 wickets in 20 matches which is the most by a bowler against the Aussies. His best bowling figures are 8/141. He also got 10-fifers.<br /></p>

9/10:Harbhajan Singh (India): 95 wickets

<p>Harbhajan Singh was one of the premier bowlers for Team India. He had a great on-field rivalry against the Aussies. Fans will never forget his hat trick against them in a historic test match at Eden Garden in 2001. He was the first Indian to claim a Test hat-trick. In 18 matches vs Aus, Bhajji took 95 wickets at an ER of 2.94. His best bowling figures were 8/84 and he got 7-fifers.<br /></p>

10/10:Nathan Lyon (Australia): 94 wickets

<p>Nathan Lyon is the highest wicket-taker from Australia against India in the red-ball format. He is just one wicket away from Harbhajan's mark of 95 wickets. Lyon is known for his sharp spin which disturbs the concentration of the batsmen. In 22 Tests vs India, Lyon got 94 wickets at an ER of 3.14. His best bowling figures were 8/50, with 7-fifers.<br /></p>Getty Images
Border-Gavaskar Trophy: All records

Of late, India's top order has been cagey against the turning ball. The focus is now on getting the players to sweep more. Surya has shown the ability to sweep well. A brisk innings in the middle-order could throw the Australians off their plans. The four-day training in Nagpur ahead of the first Test may be largely about Indian batters perfecting the sweep and adopting an attacking game against spinners.

The idea is that if the pitch starts taking vicious turn, then the intent to score quickly is the more viable option. Going by the first indications, the first-innings conditions won't be very tough to bat in. In that scenario, it's imperative to put the game beyond the opposition.

The Australians are here full of intent, motivation and quality. They had a successful tour of Pakistan last year which demonstrated their ability to conquer subcontinental conditions. It's going to be interesting to see how India counter Pat Cummins and Co.

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