India have a problem. As the No1 Test team in the world prepares for the four match Border Gavaskar series Down Under, their concerns have flipped on its head within the space of one warm-up game.
Entering the series, it was believed India’s batsmen needed to pull their socks up as after a thoroughly underwhelming tour of England where captain Virat Kohli waged a lone battle, scoring nearly 600 runs in a low-scoring series that the Indian lost 4-1.
Captain Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri insist this is one of the best Indian teams ever. All they need is for a few batsmen to find form as they have the bowlers who can take 20 wickets. I am of a similar opinion as well; not about this being the best Indian team though.
The Indian management had managed to extend their sole warm-up game before the Test series in Sydney to a four-day affair in order to give their Test hopefuls an extended run. The Test regulars were already being prepared for the Test series, playing against New Zealand A in unofficial Tests across the Tasman sea.
And then, the warm-up game against an extremely weak Cricket Australia XI happened. India were tested batting first on a greenish SCG pitch as they managed 358. Then with the ball, things went sideways.
Limited overs batsman D’Arcy Short was the only batsman of any repute in the Aussie side. Yet the hosts piled on a little under 550 – against the entire Indian Test attack.
There were contributions all the way down to number 11 as Indian bowlers – specially off-spinner Ravi Ashwin (2-122 from 40 overs) and pacer Umesh Yadav (1-113 from 28) – were kept out in the sun.
If bowling extended spells was the aim, then the Indian management succeeded. But it is difficult to think the Indians wanted their bowlers to stay out in the field and simply bowl overs. No one ‘under-performs’ like that in a tour game for practice.
What happened is India’s bowlers received a reality check.
Ashwin or Kuldeep - Who do you think should be India's only spinner if they play only one. #AUSvIND— Nikhil 🏏 (@CricCrazyNIKS) December 1, 2018
I side with Kuldeep
They took 20 wickets in Tests on extremely helpful pitches in South Africa and England where the ball swung and seamed on all days throughout the three sessions. On the flat drop-in pitches in Australia, that won’t happen no matter how much grass the Australians leave on the pitch.
Day Three and Four will be hard grinds for bowlers and the Indian management must have wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in the XI as he, along with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, look like the only bowlers who can take wickets on any pitch.
There are many permutations and combinations out there regarding the Playing XI for the first Test in Adelaide. India must decide if they go with the extra batsman or five bowlers. Whatever they do, Kuldeep must play as his wrist spin is the only guarantee when the going gets tough. Once the pitch flattens out in the second innings, finger spinners like Ravi Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja will be like canon fodder. Neither has developed his bowling for hard wickets like Aussie offie Nathan Lyon, who thrives on such pitches.
Granted, Kuldeep’s selection on a greentop at Lord’s against England was a disastrous call but the conditions there were excessively loaded in favour of swing bowlers. That won’t be the case in Australia.
Kuldeep’s wrist spin can produce wickets even after 50 overs in the second essay on a flat pitch. You can’t say that about Ashwin or Jadeja. And that is the bottom line – India’s bowlers won’t get quick 20 wickets. It’s high time the management realises it.
India‘s Under19 World Cup star Shubman Gill is in rich form at the moment, churning out runs in all formats.
The talented batsman emerged as a bright prospect for India’s batting following the U19 World Cup where he was the second highest run scorer with 372 runs from six games including one ton and three fifties.
He was picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. The Punjab batsman has continued his superlative form in domestic cricket, putting runs on board in white and red ball matches.
Gill averages 49 in 34 List A matches and nearly 60 after four first-class games. The 19-year-old hit four fifty-plus scores in six List A games – including a century – and took that form to first-class games, hitting two fifties in the Ranji Trophy match against Andhra last month.
Then, turning up for India ‘A’ against New Zealand A in the third unofficial Test in Whangarei, Gill hit 62.
That took his tally to seven fifty plus scores in his last nine outings. That’s an incredibly consistent run across formats and conditions.
It augurs well for Indian cricket that their U19 stars are performing consistently. Gill’s U19 teammate Prithvi Shaw has already made a whirlwind start to international cricket. He hit a century and a fifty in his first two Tests and has been pencilled in for the Australia tour. While Shaw has injured his ankle and is out of the first Test, he should feature in the Test series at some point.
India opener KL Rahul’s woeful form continued as he was the lone failure in the Indian top-order as the visitors fought to 392 all out from their 92 overs against a Cricket Australia XI in Sydney on Thursday.
The rest of the top and middle-order batsmen all made runs with skipper Virat Kohli making his intentions very clear as he warmed up for the opening Test of the series against the Baggy Green with an impressive 50.
Opening the batting with youngster Prithvi Shaw on the second day of the four-day game, Rahul managed to score a miserly three from his 18 deliveries before he was dismissed by Jackson Coleman.
With Cricket Australia XI winning the toss and deciding to field, it was the perfect opportunity for the Indian batsmen to adapt to the conditions Down Under.
But while those around him flourished, Rahul floundered. Captain Kohli looked in fine flow as he had the drives and flicks coming from the middle of the bat and the otherwise cautious batsman even sent one over the ropes as his 87-ball knock of 64 consisted of seven boundaries and a six.
This bodes well for the tourists who will need their main man firing from the front if India are to win their first series in Australia.
All the other top-order batsmen pitched in with Shaw hitting a fluent 69-ball 66, Cheteshwar Pujara recording a patient 89-ball 54, Hanuma Vihari knocking a cautious 88-ball 53 and deputy Ajinkya Rahane scoring 56 off 123 balls before retiring not out.
Even Rohit Sharma showed his love for the Australian pitches as he hit a fluent 40 off 55 balls. Murali Vijay is the only top-order batsman who did not get his chance in the middle as the management decided to send in Rishabh Pant and Ravi Ashwin after Rohit was dismissed and Rahane retired.
The opening day of the game was washed off as incessant rain kept the players away. It started raining in Sydney on Tuesday night and after a deluge through the day, the ground was soaking wet.
There was a brief stoppage in rain at 13:00 local time and the groundsmen worked hard to get the pitch and outfield ready. But play was abandoned for the day at 15:00 local time.
At the close of play, Cricket Australia were 24-0.