Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft is due to return to professional cricket after serving a nine-month ban for his part in a ball-tampering scandal.
The 26-year-old’s ban from international and domestic cricket expires on December 29 and he is available to line up for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League.
Bancroft was sanctioned, alongside captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, after he attempted to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper against South Africa in Cape Town in March.
Smith spoke of a “leadership group” making the decision to tamper with the ball and, in announcing the severe punishments, Cricket Australia revealed 32-year-old Warner was charged with devising the plan, instructing a junior player – Bancroft – to carry it out and even demonstrating how to do it.
Bancroft, who averaged 48.5 across five matches in last year’s BBL, was due to be Somerset’s overseas player for the 2018 summer but the club reversed the decision in light of the incident.
The right-handed batsman – unlike Smith and Warner – has appeared to shirk the limelight since the South Africa Test and the fallout, and has not played in any high-profile Twenty20 leagues unlike his compatriots.
He lined up for the Desert Blaze in the Strike League in Australia’s Northern Territory in July and August, caught for one in his first innings, and posted a top score of 78 during the tournament.
Bancroft’s return to grade cricket was also without much fanfare. Opening for Wiletton in Western Australia against Midland-Guildford in October, he scored four before holing out.
Only a “handful of spectators” were present at the game, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Across the six games since, Bancroft has notched up 413 runs and top scored with 154, streets ahead of Aaron Hardie (211) in the WACA 1st Grade.
Smith and Warner – both banned until March 29 next year – have also played grade cricket on the other side of Australia in New South Wales.
The former Test captain and vice-captain were denied big pay days from the Indian Premier League following the bans – Cricket Australia reported both had £1.9million contracts for the Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively.
Instead, the pair plied their trade in Canada at the inaugural Global T20 with Smith turning out for the Toronto Nationals and Warner the Winnipeg Hawks.
Smith returned to grade cricket in Australia in late September, scoring 85 which has been his highest total across eight innings in New South Wales.
Warner has been in more prolific form, averaging 75 across seven games for Randwick Petersham with a top score of 157. The BBL finishes in February, so both Smith and Warner will miss the season after CA decided not to alter the sanctions of the three men last month.
Australia have dropped vice-captain Mitchell Marsh for the first Test against India, which begins in Adelaide on Thursday.
All-rounder Marsh’s form has been shaky in recent series against South Africa and Pakistan, and Travis Head and Peter Handscomb have been named ahead of him in Australia’s 12-man squad.
“Mitch Marsh has not been as consistent as he would like and we would like,” said Australia captain Tim Paine.
“We know the talent that Mitch has and we know that most likely at some stage in this series we will need him. We are taking the opportunity at the moment to go back and play a Shield game and get some cricket under his belt.”
Meanwhile, Marcus Harris will make his debut at the top of the order, alongside Aaron Finch, with Usman Khawaja returning to the No 3 slot.
“He can play his shots but he’s also really improved his defence. He’s come a long way as a batsman,” Paine said of Harris.
Khawaja will play despite the shock arrest of his brother on Tuesday, for allegedly framing a rival in a fake terror plot. He was not in the nets on Wednesday, though he usually avoids a heavy workload on the eve of a Test.
“We’re keeping an eye on Uzzie, obviously it was a little bit of shock for him yesterday,” coach Justin Langer told SEN radio.
“That said, he’s got good support around him. He’ll be as cool and calm as usual out on the middle.”
Arsalan Khawaja was released on bail in Sydney after appearing in court for charges of forgery and attempting to pervert justice.
Meanwhile, Shaun Marsh will bat at four, with Handscomb at five and Head at six.
This is it for Australia. They face top-ranked India in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy without batting mainstays Steve Smith and David Warner, and with the spotlight firmly on their journey since the ball-tampering scandal earlier in the year.
Australia captain Tim Paine said he is getting sick and tired of talk about team culture and the scandalous South Africa tour at the beginning of the year. The Baggy Green now have an opportunity to let the bat and ball do the talking against a cagey Indian team that has lost six out of eight Tests in 2018.
The Australians will be relying on their pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood to contain Kohli and the rest of India’s batting, even if the line-up fails to elicit as much confidence.
Here we take a look at the key tactics for the hosts as they aim to get an edge in the opening clash.
PITCH IT UP TO KOHLI
According to data by CricViz, during the eight Tests in South Africa and England, India skipper Virat Kohli averaged 46.28 against full deliveries, 66.33 against good length balls and 69.33 against the short stuff.
Moreover, according to ESPNcricinfo, England seamer James Anderson produced 53 false shots from Kohli by the third Test without dismissing him. In 2014, Kohli had played a false shot 54 times and had been out 10 times for an average of less than 14.
So the simple strategy is to bowl full and swing the ball away or nip it back in. He might cover drive an entire session but as a luckless Anderson showed this year, Kohli will still edge the away moving ball. Or fall over and get hit on the pads. The Aussie bowlers and fielders just need to be switched on when that opportunity arrives. He might still score runs but there is a chance of him not having a bumper tour and given his current form, that would be seen as a huge victory.
IF PITCH IS FLAT, PACK THE ON-SIDE AND BOWL STRAIGHT
Australia’s tall quicks have a distinct advantage over their Indian counterparts – they can go to the default mode and plug the runs if the pitch is too flat. Josh Hazlewood in particular has the ability to run in hard even at the end of a hot day and bowl tight and into the batsmen’s body.
If by some twist of fate the wicket turns out to be particularly flat in any of the four Tests, the best way to unsettle India’s batting is to dry up the runs and wait. India’s batting, apart from Kohli, seems to have forgotten how to play the long innings. Also, since India’s batting line-up will most likely be light given the absence of batting all-rounder Hardik Pandya, they can feel cornered fairly early.
Since no batsman apart from Kohli has shown the ability this season to fight his way out of a hole, the Aussie quicks can look to first attack and if that doesn’t work, pack the on-side with fielders and bowl straight. It was a strategy employed by the Aussies to lethal effect when they won the 2004 series in India 2-1.