BENGALURU: When Australia tour India, the build-up is massive with the anticipation of another historic Test series. The last few tours have shown that the hype is for real. Former Aussie captains have referred to India as the ‘Final Frontier’.
The latest episode for the Border Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) is billed as a ‘Test by fire’ as the first Test begins in Nagpur next Thursday. Skipper Pat Cummins & Co have left no stone unturned in their preparations. They had a camp in Sydney, where Indian pitches were simulated; and after touching down in Bengaluru, they have spent some rigorous hours, facing local spinners and others at the Karnataka State Cricket Association Stadium in Alur near Bengaluru.
The visitors, who won’t get a tour match, have instead been provided with a wide range of conditions, including strips with decent turn. Even the Aussie tailenders have spent a couple of hours batting on the spinning wickets.
Such kind of preparation signals Australia’s focus for a BGT series win in India. Their 2004 victory is their only success in India in eight attempts since 1996.
“It is a big series. One of the reasons is because India gets a lot of attention anytime you play against them, but also, their record here is good. It is always a tough tour for overseas teams - to come here and win,” Cummins said.
This time around, Australia have been helped by the international schedule as well.
In the last 12 months, they toured Pakistan (won series 1-0) and Sri Lanka (drawn 1-1), helping them get attuned to the subcontinental conditions. The likes of Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne were amongst the runs. While their top spinner Nathan Lyon showed his skills, scalping 23 in five Tests.
‘Spin experience will help’
But head coach Andrew McDonald is also aware about India being a different challenge altogether.
“To have experienced that (playing in Pakistan and Sri Lanka), it should hold us in good stead here. The challenge is going to be there but we feel as though the flat conditions, we have experienced that, the spin conditions and we also have trained accordingly. All be it, till we get onto the ground, that will be the proof of how prepared we are and how we execute and deal with other pressures, which come in around the game,” the coach said.
Though the talk in the past few weeks have been on the spinning conditions, Australia’s strength lies in their pace force that includes Josh Hazlewood and Cummins. Mitchell Starc is still recovering from a finger injury and is out of first Test.
The team combination may thus hinge on the availability of the allrounder Cameron Green, who underwent a finger surgery last month. McDonald believes Green has an outside chance of making it to the playing XI.
“He’s made some significant steps forward in the last couple of days, probably to my surprise. There is still an outside chance that, if everything goes well, he might be on the team sheet.”
As far as spinners go, Australia have four, including Lyon, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson and Todd Murphy.
“I wouldn’t say (picking two spinners) is a given. Obviously, it is conditions dependent, particularly this first Test. Once we get to Nagpur, we’ll see. I think sometimes when talking about a couple of spinners, you forget how good a lot of our fast bowlers have been in all conditions,” said Cummins.
“We will pick the bowlers that we think can take 20 wickets.”