Pitch in spotlight as India, Australia renew test rivalry
NAGPUR, India (AP) — With qualification for the World Test Championship final at stake, there’s extra scrutiny around all facets of the series when India and Australia renew their rivalry for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The pitch being prepared for the first test starting Thursday at Nagpur has already gained much of the spotlight.
Australian media highlighted concerns after ground staff watered and rolled only certain areas of the match wicket on Tuesday evening, leaving other parts drier — perceived Down Under as a disadvantage for left-handed batters. Australia has more left-handers in the order than India.
While this is a signature method to preparing turning wickets in the Indian sub-continent, the visuals were enough to cause apprehension for the touring party.
“We know it's tough to tour here, but it is also exciting," Australia captain pat Cummins said. “We will have to deal with the challenge,” of turning wickets. Cummins added that off-spinner would be crucial to Australia's efforts in the four-test series.
The other test matches will be played in Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad.
The subject of turning tracks has dominated the build-up to this much-anticipated contest, with former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy among those who asked for “fair wickets.”
“I think if they produce fair Indian wickets, that are good batting wickets, to start with, (that) probably spin and spin pretty consistently but spin a long way, late in the match, we (Australia) win,” Healy said in a radio interview.
Meanwhile, former India cricketer and coach Ravi Shastri called for the pitch to turn from ball one. “If you are fielding first, you would want to see the ball turning a bit," he said. “It’s your strength, capitalize on it.”
The pitch debate was also raised when Australia last toured India in 2017. The hosts had won that hotly-contested series 2-1.
In between, India toured Australia in 2018-19 and again in 2020-21, winning both series 2-1.
The Australians haven't won the trophy since 2014-15 at home, and haven't won in India since 2004-05.
The visitors will be missing experienced pace bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and allrounder Cameron Green because of injuries.
That likely means Scott Boland will get his first overseas test cap as a pace partner for Cummins, with either left-armer Ashton Agar or uncapped 22-year-old Todd Murphy to partner partner Lyon in the spin department.
India will be without batter Shreyas Iyer because of injury and also faces a selection dilemma regarding in-form Shubman Gill, and whether vice-captain Lokesh Rahul should make way owing to his form.
There is also the option of including Suryakumar Yadav, who is the No. 1-ranked T20 batsman.
“Gill has been in supreme form and scored a lot of big runs. Yadav has also shown us his scoring range," India skipper Rohit Sharma said. “We have not made this decision yet.”
The hosts could play both batsmen, and line up with three spinners and one pace bowler, depending on the final nature of the Nagpur pitch. The toss-up for the final spin slot will be between left-arm spinner Axar Patel and wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is fit again and will resume his spin partnership with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
The four-test series will also decide the finalists for the World Test Championship final to be played at the Oval in London from June 7.
Australia is in pole position to take one of the two final spots, leading the championship standings with a 75.56 win percentage.
Only a 4-0 loss in this series, coupled with Sri Lanka and South Africa winning their upcoming contests against New Zealand and West Indies, will see Australia ousted.
India also will watch the other contests keenly. Its fortunes are dependent more on the outcome of Sri Lanka’s tour of New Zealand.
A single loss for the Sri Lankans would mean a 2-2 draw in the four tests against Australia would suffice for India’s qualification. It would need a minimum 3-1 victory over Australia in case both Sri Lanka and South Africa win their series by a 2-0 margin.
India is in ranked second in the nine-team championship with a 58.93 win percentage, followed by Sri Lanka with 53.33 and South Africa with 48.72.
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