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AUS vs IND: India’s series hopes hinge on form of key players

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Here is the real deal: The Border Gavaskar Trophy. The Tests are indeed the real deal when India tour outside Asia, especially in SENA countries. It is a contest between two big cricket teams, the hype is huge and the more so for the first Test at Adelaide. On 17 December, India are set to play their first pink-ball Test match (AUS vs IND) on foreign soil and more importantly, it is Virat Kohli’s only Test on this big tour.  

The ‘pressure’ on both teams is also huge – it is a big contest. While India will be under pressure to defeat the ‘full-strength’ Australia side and end the talk (you know which), their troubles would be compounded due to the absence of their skipper (after game one) and Ishant Sharma; Australia wouldn’t want to be defeated by a little weaker Indian side – to not compromise on their home dominance.  

What also matters for India particularly is the qualification for the final of the inaugural World Test Championship. A spot for the finals which looked sealed some months ago is now in danger due to a horrid Test series in New Zealand and some changes in the WTC point system.  

AUS vs IND: THE INDIAN BATTING UNIT   

“Indians are poor players of the moving ball,” say the critics. Since the start of the 2018 overseas cycle, the Indian batting unit has been under scrutiny. You wonder, are they really that bad?   

The pacers generally pose a threat in South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia and West Indies [Ireland & Zimbabwe don’t have very good bowling attacks]. Six teams [IND, ENG, PAK, AUS, SL & WI] have played at least away five Tests in the mentioned countries since the start of 2018. In the mentioned host nations since 2018, the overall batting average of the top-7 (batting-position wise) batsmen is 30.98. 

Now, taking a look at the batting average of the batsmen (grouped by teams) who have batted in at least five matches in the top-7 batting positions in this duration might give a fair idea of the best batting unit in those unfamiliar conditions. The overall average of the whole batting unit might not give a better idea. An elite Test batsman might inflate the overall average of the entire batting unit.  

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India are the joint-highest [six batsmen – Kohli, Pujara, Vihari, Pant, Mayank and Rahane] with England. What needs to be taken into account is each Indian batsman averages over 34 and has played at least 10 innings. England, who are more accustomed against the moving ball due to their home conditions, have six players as well, however, Ollie Pope has played only 8 innings. 

Indian batsmen have also scored the highest number of hundreds (13) while the next best are the English batsmen with 7 centuries to their names. 

You can still consider England as the superior batting unit against the moving ball, given they play in England regularly. But, one thing is true for sure: India are not that bad. 

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Australia’s world-class bowling attack is India’s biggest challenge. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood will pose quite a big threat for India. They are consistent with lines and lengths, especially in the outside off stump, and don’t give enough run-scoring opportunities. However, India, especially Cheteshwar Pujara, tackled the Australian pace attack well in the last series.  

Each of Australia’s main bowler – Cummins, Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon – averaged over 35 in the first team bowling innings. Cummins and Hazlewood never averaged more in the first bowling innings in a series (at least one wicket) across their Test career while the fourth-worst for Starc. 

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Even their overall average of the Australian pacers was well-below than that of Indian pacers. Hazlewood and Starc averaged over 30 while Cummins about 28.  

The Australians pacers are better than what these numbers suggest. While India would want to replicate it again, Australia will try to better their performance. Once the pitches become good for batting, the Aussie quicks will try the short-ball tactic, and India should be well-prepared for that.  

WHO OPENS WITH MAYANK?  

Prithvi Shaw has received plenty of criticism, however, his first-class record – an average of 54 – isn’t bad. In the non-international first-class cricket: he averages 62.50 in four innings in England while exactly 56 in two in New Zealand. Even during India’s last tour of New Zealand, Shaw was India’s third-leading run-scorer – he wasn’t great, yeah. The sample size is too little to judge him in overseas conditions.  

However, in two practice matches on this tour, Shaw averaged under 16 with no 50+ score. His technique against the moving ball continues to remain under scrutiny – playing hard, away from the body and lack of feet-movement. Shaw also needs to understand that being a ‘dasher’ opener is unlikely to bring Test success to him across the globe. He can’t be always looking to score runs. He needs to bide time and play big knocks as well. 

Shaw also faced issues in the IPL 2020 against the new-ball and was even dropped.  

ALSO READ: Shubman Gill looking forward to counter Australia’s chin music

India’s other option is Shubman Gill. Across his first-class career outside of India, Gill has played three out of 11 innings as an opener including two in the first practice match on this tour. He has looked in control on this tour, he has played close to his body, he has not looked hurried but has utilized the scoring opportunities at the same time. 

In the pink-ball Test, you would want a batsman with a sound technique, and a fair call if you want Gill. But who plays once Kohli leaves? Rohit Sharma is unlikely to play the second Test while KL Rahul didn’t feature in any practice match. So, both Shaw and Gill might feature in the second Test.  

It might make more sense to give Shaw a continuous run at the top of the order. It will also mean that Gill would play in the middle-order in the 2nd game. In many cases, the ‘potential’ best batsmen of the next generation are also groomed in the middle-order in Test cricket. Gill might be the better choice for the first Test but fair call to India on whatever they decide, given the availability of the players. 

IMPACT OF KOHLI’S ABSENCE:  

The hype of this series is mainly built on Kohli. Since Kohli is available for the pink-ball Test, the responsibility on the rest of the batting unit increases. It was evident in the practice match that Australia are planning well for Pujara, considering him a big threat, and more so in Kohli’s absence.  

In the absence of Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain, needs to step up both as a leader and as a batsman. Rahane is by no means an average Test batsman, however, the big issue with him, as many will tell, is his conversion rate. Since the start of 2018, he breaches the 50-run mark once in three innings but he has just two tons to his name in 36 innings. 

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India would also want Hanuma Vihari to have a good series. Vihari is gradually cementing his spot in the Indian Test side. One main issue with Vihari, on this tour, might be short balls. On the last tour, Cummins got him out twice off short balls. Even dismissing that series as a one-off, Vihari hasn’t look very comfortable while facing short balls and bouncers in general. However, Vihari’s temperament and determination to survive should help him.  

ALSO READ: Challenge with the pink ball is during twilight, feels Hanuma Vihari

Mayank Agarwal had a good time when India toured Australia last time. However, this time, the hosts will be better prepared for him. Mayank isn’t someone with supreme technique against fast-bowling, however, runs on his back should help him. If he avoids playing away from his body and continues to improve his back-foot game against pace, Mayank would be among India’s better bets against Lyon. Agarwal also worked with Kohli in the nets, so that should help him get a hang of the nuances of playing in Australia. 

PANT OR SAHA?  

It should be an easy call if Rishabh Pant is fit enough to perform the wicketkeeping duty for two innings. Pant missed the first practice match due to fitness issues, however, he played the second and registered the quickest ton in the pink-ball first-class matches. Pant had a decent time in India’s last tour as well.  

Pant is a better batsman than Wriddhiman Saha, easily. Saha is a better wicket-keeper but Pant is a capable wicket-keeper too. And, runs matter significantly more for India on the overseas tours. However, one thing which Pant needs to keep in mind is that he shouldn’t lose his shape against pace – being in control is really important. 

Also, Pant is best suited to take advantage after a solid start against tired pacers. 

AUS vs IND: THE INDIAN BOWLING ATTACK:  

The bowling attack of India will face a huge challenge this time around. Steven Smith and David Warner (not for the first Test) are back. Marnus Labuschagne has established himself as a top Test batsman since the Ashes 2019. Add to that, Ishant Sharma is unavailable for this series. Ishant was the second-best bowler in the previous Border-Gavaskar Trophy. 

SHAMI IN THE FIRST BOWLING INNINGS: 

One factor which might be an issue for India is the performance of Mohammed Shami in the first innings. In SENA nations across his Test career or even since the start of 2018, Shami has been poor – an average of 40.22; a strike rate of 70.7 and an economy of 3.41 – in the first bowling innings of India. Even when Shami opens the bowling attack, his average remains over 40. 

His returns with the new ball across innings – the first-15 overs of an innings – are also quite bad.  

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Even though Shami has been a bit unlucky, he can improve his returns. Inconsistency in lines and lengths have hurt him as well as India at times. Aiming to not concede ‘easy’ runs, Shami could be more consistent in the outside off stump line. Shami is a very skilled bowler, he can extract movement off the deck, hit the deck hard, bowl short balls – with high pace; a few fixes like hitting the right areas should help India. 

Since Ishant is absent, Shami’s responsibility will increase. He is also likely to bowl more with the new ball and India would want him to utilize it to the fullest. 

THE THIRD PACER: 

Jasprit Bumrah was undoubtedly India’s best bowler during the last tour. India would want him to breathe fire and maintain his fitness throughout the series. However, the worry for India should be the third seamer.  

What Ishant did was bowing long spells, leaked runs miserly and provided breakthroughs too. Mind you, he was the second-best bowler in the previous series against the Aussies.  

Now, India’s choices are Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini. One thing which unites them is the lack of control at times. None of them is an ‘outstanding’ option and it is quite hard to have a strong opinion. 

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Umesh performed exceptionally well in the first practice match. However, in his Test career in Australia, he averages about 46. What Umesh brings to the table is that he can bowl long spells without compromising on his speed. However, the downside of his bowling is the abundance of bad balls, which might be really ugly. Anyway, since he is the most experienced and ahead in the pecking order among the three, the team management might prefer him.  

Siraj and Saini haven’t played a first-class game in Australia before this tour. Siraj’s numbers in the first-class cricket are better than that of Saini. Siraj was impressive with the new ball in the IPL 2020 as well. He can move the ball off the deck as well as in the air. Thus, he might be a good option for the pink-ball Test. 

Saini’s pace is more suited for Australian decks; however, it looks he needs to work on his bowling on the surfaces which don’t have to offer much for pacers. If the pitches get easy for batting and once the balls get soft, it will get really tough for him or for anyone. Choosing the correct lines and lengths and persistently hitting those areas – which he didn’t in the 2nd practice match – should help him. 

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A four-man pace attack sounds exciting; however, India will be better served if they don’t select two such pacers, who don’t inspire enough confidence. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin is a good option. Ashwin might not be a wicket-taker here, however, he can control the flow of runs and help other pacers in striking. 

Also, Ashwin was seen practising hard in the nets on his batting. Thus, him being India’s No. 8 is very likely. 

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India have plenty to gain from this tour, it is an excellent opportunity if you look positively. Understandably, you wouldn’t expect them to win but what matters is the fight in the absence of the two vital players. Since 2018, India have ‘fought hard’ in overseas Tests, however, the tables turned around in New Zealand as India were comfortably defeated.  

Virat Kohli’s, rather Ajinkya Rahane’s, men would want to ensure that they continue to fight hard and give themselves a chance to win at the very least.   



I am a freelance cricket writer for The Quint, Cricket.com, CricXtasy and Sportskeeda. My articles, which generally revolve around the Indian cricket team and the IPL, present a data-driven analysis. Cheering for the Indian cricket team and Data Analysis are my hobbies. I tweet at @mainlycricket.