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.
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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