The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Chetan Narula

THE RI­VALRY: Talk about great mod­ern crick­et­ing ri­val­ries, and it’s easy to talk about In­dia-Aus­tralia. From the days of Sachin Ten­dulkar and Shane Warne if not ear­lier, it has al­ways made for a sump­tu­ous­meal­forevery­onewatch­ing, ris­ing­toazenithinthep­asttwodecades.

Prob­a­bly, it reached a crescendo when In­dia started off on their golden run in Test cricket un­der Sourav Gan­guly. From VVS Lax­man bring­ing out the magic at Eden Gar­dens in 2001, to Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting scor­ing runs blow-for-blow in 2003, to the con­quest of the ‘fi­nal fron­tier’ in 2004, and then onto some con­tro­ver­sial times in 200708, this match-up has al­ways been tasty.

Off late, the sting has gone a bit as the home fac­tor has taken prece­dence. In­dia lost 4-0 away in 2011-12. Aus­tralia re­turned the favour in 2012-13. The last se­ries, in 2014-15, was a bit about change ofthe­guard.MSDhoni­passe­donthe­ba­ton to Vi­rat Kohli, and Michael Clarke handed it over to Steve Smith. For both teams, they were tran­si­tional times. Can this se­ries be the end of that cy­cle and live up to its rich, en­gag­ing past?

VK vs SS: Kohli scored 692 runs in four Tests on that 2014-15 tour. It was pay­back for a poor trip to Eng­land. Mean­while, Smith amassed 769 runs in that same se­ries, go­ing one bet­ter than his coun­ter­part. The bowlers can step aside now, for this is the new ri­valry that de­fines any In­dia-Aus­tralia con­test.The two have taken dif­fer­ent routes get­ting to this junc­ture though. Kohli has al­most fol­lowed the path des­tined for him — In­dia’s premier bats­man across for­mats and in­deed cap­tain. But at no point, has he ever been com­pla­cent, work­ing hard to get to the top. Al­ter­nately, start­ing out asalegspin­ner,Smith­hadtofight­forhis share of in­ter­na­tional cricket, and it has been a long strug­gle for him, un­usual for an Aus­tralian crick­eter who rises to such high stature. Per­haps this as­pect is what brings them to­gether, in their con­trast­ing styles, and sets the stage for round two of this in­trigu­ing bat­tle.

WARNER vs ASH­WIN: Of course, there has to be a sup­port cast oth­er­wise the show can get bor­ing. Ajinkya Ra­hane would’ve made a su­perb sec­ond to Kohli on this stage, but his run-in to this se­ries has been a bit patchy. Mitchell Starc could’ve been Smith’s un­der­study, but his fit­ness is al­ways un­der cloud. As such, David Warner and R Ash­win come to the fore.

That­same2014-15tour­wasvi­tal­for­both aswell.Ash­win­wasleft­outinAde­laide,a shock­ingsnub,an­dreturned­inBris­bane with al­most a sec­ond wind to his Test ca­reer. He over­came the dis­ap­point­ments en­dured dur­ing In­dia’s over­seas cy­cle in 2013-14, and has be­come the world’s fore­most all-rounder — not just bowler or spin­ner mind you — ever since. Warner toohas­gone­from­strength­tostrengthin this in­terim. He scored 427 runs in that 2014-15 se­ries, but an­other statis­tic holds more weight herein. Be­fore the start of that home sum­mer, he av­er­aged 47.47 in 32Tests.Sincethen,ithas­risento51.10in 28Tests.As­such,whileAsh­win­re­mains a pri­mary threat to the Aus­tralian lineup, to what de­gree Warner sup­ports Smith will likely de­cide the out­come of this se­ries.

PITCH: “I don’t think there’ll be any note­wor t hy bou nce or move­ment here at all,” said pacer Josh Ha­zle­wood on Tuesday. “This pitch bears a very dry look even one day be­fore the game,” said Smith on Wed­nes­day. “The pitch in Pune is usu­ally very dry at this time of the year. The grass cov­er­ing is just there to hold it to­gether,” said Kohli ahead of the first Test.

Yes, we get it. The pitch at MCA sta­dium is bone dry and is ex­pected to turn on day two, if not day one it­self. If so, it’ll be a keen de­par­ture from the wick­ets laid out dur­ing this long home sea­son. Nei­ther Eng­land nor Bangladesh played on a sim­i­larly dry track. Per­haps New Zealand ex­pe­ri­encedit­inKan­pur,buteven­then, it didn’t turn alarm­ingly and there was enough in it for the bats­men. So, the ques­tion is, if Aus­tralia can ig­nore how the men­tal as­pect of how the pitch looks and get on with their job in­stead?

SPIN­NERS — TWO OR THREE? The pitch will im­pact team selec­tion though. Kohli has been very wary of dry, rag­ing turn­ers.He­played­six­full-time­bats­men in Galle against Sri Lanka (2015) and at Nag­pur against South Africa (2016), in a bid to be safe than sorry. It didn’t work the first time, but he has learnt from that Galle ex­pe­ri­ence. If he con­tin­ues to think along sim­i­lar lines, Karun Nair will ex­pect­edly make a come­back to the eleven. If not, Jayant Ya­dav will play.

Even so, the com­bi­na­tion of Ash­win and Ravin­dra Jadeja ought to be lethal enough on a turn­ing wicket. The spot­light would then be on Aus­tralia, and whether Smith goes in with three spin­ners. Ideally, he should play safe, with Peter Hand­scomb at no.5 and Mathew Wade at no.7, and bank on an ad­di­tional bats­man in the line-up. It’d al­low him to opt for a five-bowler at­tack, two pac­ers in Starc and Ha­zle­wood, two spin­ners in Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, with Mitchell Marsh do­ing the all-round job. Sim­ply put, if two spin­ners can’t do the job for Aus­tralia, the third won’t help. Ac­cord­ing to the ICC’s Test rank­ings, the top two bats­men (Steven Smith, Vi­rat Kohli) and top three bowlers (R Ash­win, Ravin­dra Jadeja and Josh Ha­zle­wood) in the world will all be play­ing in this Test

In­dia haven’t lost a Test since Au­gust 2015 — a streak of 19 con­sec­u­tive Tests — when they lost to Sri Lanka in Galle

At home, In­dia have won 17 and drawn 3 in last 20 Tests. Last time they lost at home was to Eng­land in Kolkata in De­cem­ber 2012

Aus­tralia have lost their last 9 Tests in Asia

Last time In­dia hosted Aus­tralia for a Test se­ries, Ash­win and Jadeja com­bined for a tally of 53 wick­ets Test Rank­ing: 1 Cap­tain: Vi­rat Kohli Coach: Anil Kum­ble Squad: Vi­rat Kohli, Mu­rali Vi­jay, Lokesh Rahul, Chetesh­war Pu­jara, Ajinkya Ra­hane, Wrid­dhi­man Saha (wk), Ravichan­dran Ash­win, Ravin­dra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhu­vnesh­war Ku­mar, Umesh Ya­dav, Karun Nair, Jayant Ya­dav, Kuldeep Ya­dav, Ab­hi­nav Mukund, Hardik Pandya

Beat Bangladesh in one-off home test Beat Eng­land 4-0 in five-match home se­ries Beat New Zealand 3-0 in three-match home se­ries Beat West Indies 2-0 in four-match away se­ries

Test Rank­ing: 2 Cap­tain: Steve Smith Coach: Dar­ren Lehmann Squad: Steve Smith, David Warner, Matt Ren­shaw, Us­man Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Hand­scomb, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Wade (WK), Mitchell Starc, Josh Ha­zle­wood, Jack­son Bird, Nathan Lyon, Stephen O’Keefe, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swep­son

Beat Pak­istan 3-0 in three-match home se­ries Lost to South Africa 2-1 in three-match home se­ries Lost to Sri Lanka 3-0 in three-match away se­ries Beat New Zealand 2-0 in two-match away se­ries Aus­tralia wins In­dia wins In­dia wins Aus­tralia wins Draws Draws Tied Tied


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