Australia begin their four-Test tour of India in Nagpur on Thursday (3pm AEDT) with high hopes of a first Border-Gavaskar Trophy win away from home in 18 years.
As the countdown to the First Test enters its final hours, drama continues to boil over India’s extremely unusual pitch preparation – with curators treating different parts of the wicket in significantly differing fashion.
The pitch will play a significant factor in Australia’s selections as a 35-year first looms, while opener David Warner is mulling a shocking switch to potentially bat right-handed in response to the conditions.
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Cummins not fazed by pitch tactics | 00:54
PITCH DRAMA ROLLS ON
Selectively watering parts of the pitch, deploying the roller only in specific areas: India’s methods of curating the Nagpur pitch have raised plenty of eyebrows in recent days. It appears to be a clear ploy to give bowlers an advantage against left-handed batters – with five of Australia’s top seven lefties, compared to just one Indian batter.
It was labelled “straight-up pitch doctoring” by veteran writer Robert Craddock in recent days, though India great Ravi Shastri hit out at claims his nation was ‘cheating’ by declaring “That’s bulls**t.”
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Australian cricket journalist Peter Lalor told SEN radio today: “Even in 2004, the wickets weren’t as extreme as they are these days.
“India seems more determined every tour to make wickets that are going to make the Aussies uncomfortable, or any visitor uncomfortable.
“I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen a pitch preparation like what they’ve done here in Nagpur.”
But Australia captain Pat Cummins has tried to downplay the drama, saying the team is ‘embracing the chaos’ and the unique challenges of playing away from home.
“Embracing the chaos. These series always throw up different challenges on the field or off the field, and embracing it is what makes these tours so special,” Cummins said.
“That’s part of the challenge of playing away. Home teams want to win at home. In Australia, we’re lucky we’ve normally got pace and bounce. Home match advantage, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing. It’s another challenge and makes touring over here even harder when you know the conditions are custom-made for them.”
Sharma plays down pitch chatter | 02:00
AUSSIES EYE SELECTION GAMBLE
In response to the pitch favouring right-handers, Victorian batter Peter Handscomb looks set to make his return to the Test team after four years in exile, his right-handedness a major boost in his bid to unseat left-hander Matt Renshaw.
It is one of three likely changes to the Australian XI, with Scott Boland set to replace the injured Josh Hazlewood.
But perhaps the most intriguing change of all is the likely debut of 22-year-old off-spinner Todd Murphy. Murphy’s parents reportedly flew to India with his debut looming. If he plays alongside Nathan Lyon, it would be the first time Australia fielded two right-arm offies since Tim May and Peter Taylor on the 1988 tour of Pakistan.
“He’s as good an off-spinner as I’ve seen since Nathan Lyon,” Murphy’s Sydney Sixers teammate Steve O’Keefe told Foxsports.com.au earlier this summer.
But if Murphy is included alongside Lyon, Australia could consider an even more stunning move – keeping Ashton Agar in a three-pronged spin attack. India will likely field three spinners of their own, but former Australia captain Michael Clarke thinks the visitors shouldn’t follow suit.
He told SEN radio: “I don’t think you need it, because you’ve got Travis Head and (Marnus) Labuschagne. That’s so much spin bowling.
“If you go the extra right-arm offie, when’s he bowling instead of Nathan Lyon? Nathan Lyon generally bowls 30 to 40 overs to take his five-wicket hauls.
“The only time he’s bowling is when Nathan Lyon’s tired, or you’re going off spin from both ends.
“But I haven’t seen the pitch, and there’s enough experience in this Australian team so if they think it’s the right way I’ll back that.”
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India likely to go with three spinners | 01:44
WARNER’S SHOCKING PLOY
David Warner is a left-hander. It’s worth mentioning, since he’s been spotted in the nets batting right-handed. He’s reportedly told teammates he will go rightie in the Test – likely when coming up against India’s two left-arm orthodox spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.
If so, it would be a staggering ploy. But Warner once batted a full season of junior cricket right-handed and played brilliantly.
His biggest concern might not even be a left-armer though, with Ravichandwin Ashwin having claimed Warner’s wicket 10 times in just 15 Tests.
The Australian opener’s record in India is tough reading – an average of 24.25 across 16 innings (eight Tests across the 2013 and 2017 series). He has three half-centuries with a top score of 71.
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The teams will be announced at the toss, shortly before 3pm AEDT.
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.
India squad (first two Tests): Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, Suryakumar Yadav.
SESSION TIMES (AEDT)
First session: 3pm-5pm
Second session: 5.40pm-7.40pm
Third session: 8pm-10:30pm (approx.)
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