Steve Smith faces a tricky captaincy task for Australia’s fourth Test in India after Pat Cummins officially ruled himself out of the contest to remain in Australia with his ill mother who is in palliative care with breast cancer.
Smith, 33, will captain the side again after deputising for Cummins in Indore, and leading Australia to a historic victory to bring the series back to 2-1.
A win in Ahmedabad would be the first time Australia has won consecutive Tests in India since 1969, and would mark the first time the tourists have won multiple Tests away to India since the famous 2004/05 series victory led by Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting.
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According to Australian assistant coach Daniel Vettori, however, it will require a marked shift in performance with the willow from Australia’s tailenders.
Batting positions eight to 11 have cumulatively yielded the Australians only 4.94 runs per innings during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, with Pat Cummins’ knock of 33 in Delhi the only score in double figures.
Lower order runs have been a key advantage for India, particularly in their first Test victory, with Axar Patel (185 runs at 92.50) the second highest run-scorer for the series and Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin ranked eighth and 11th respectively.
Vettori, who made 4531 runs at 30 in Test cricket mostly batting at seven and eight for New Zealand, said there was a “busyness” lacking in the Australian tail’s batting which had to be brought to Ahmedabad on March 9.
“I think we all understand that defence is not necessarily a way through that situation because of how much the ball is turning and how good the bowlers are, and finding your scoring areas,” Vettori said.
Vettori said he had been extremely impressed by the consistency of Australia’s spinners, particularly rookie pair Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann, given the amount of pressure on the slow bowlers to deliver wickets on such lively pitches.
“They don’t wilt to the pressure, they just understand their process and they repeat and repeat and repeat. That’s the real skill over here … you can get carried away with what’s going on,” Vettori said.
“I think Kuhney in particular has come in so early in his career and Todd as well, and to be able to be consistent against some of the best players against spin you’ll come across in these conditions and with these expectations has been probably the most impressive thing so far.”
The Indore Test saw Smith’s captaincy at its finest, setting his trademark in-out fields to keep India under constant pressure whilst managing his bowlers effortlessly.
“It was probably as well as Steve Smith has ever captained,” said broadcaster Gerard Whateley on SEN.
“His body language on day two and how into the fight he was, it was captivating.”
Former fast bowler Mitchell Johnson wrote in the West Australian that “Smith’s captaincy acumen should serve as a reminder of what a valuable asset his cricket brain is to the Australian team.”
Smith was banned from leadership positions for twelve months following the Newlands sandpaper scandal, and any full-time return to the captaincy would require a specific Cricket Australia process that took into account the condition of “his acceptance by fans and the public, form and authority among the playing group,” in line with the sanctions placed on him in 2018.
Smith himself has established he is happy as a deputy, declaring this Australian side as “Patty’s team”.
Despite that, he is keen for the challenge, describing India as a place he loves captaining.
“It’s a game of chess, every ball means something,” he said.
“It’s good fun moving people and trying to make the batter think and something different and just playing games with them.
“It’s probably my favourite place in the world to captain.”
The Ahmedabad Test is expected to have one of the biggest crowds ever for a single day’s play of a Test match, with the Narendra Modi Stadium able to hold 132,000 people at capacity.
85,000 tickets to the first day’s play have been set aside for local families and students, with early fears that travelling Australian fans could be locked out allayed by a last-minute Cricket Australia effort to secure an online ticket portal.
Anthony Albanese will be in attendance as part of his first trip to India as Prime Minister, taking part in a series of ceremonial commitments alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“One of the things that binds both countries is cricket, and it will be great to see the leaders of India and Australia on day one of the match in Ahmedabad,” said Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell.
– with NCA Newswire
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