India and Australia are supposed to play the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at Adelaide from December 9. There will be a lot of factors that will come into play during this Test but perhaps the biggest of them all will be the untimely demise of the promising Phil Hughes, who played for South Australia, which is where Adelaide is located. All cricket enthusiasts will be keen to see how the Australian cricketers will move on from the passing away of one of their most loved colleagues – someone whom they regarded as a brother.
Hughes’ death had a stirring effect on several Indian players – one can only imagine how the Australian players – several among whom were on field when he was felled by the bouncer from Sean Abbott – might be feeling. However, the Australians are known to be a characteristically tough group of people and if the early images of practice sessions are any indicator then they are all geared up for the contest. In the last few days they have been shown to be laughing and getting themselves ready for the crucial encounter. India also has played a couple of practice games and looked steady.
Question of momentum
The first Test is always important because more often than not it sets the tone for the entire series. So it is almost a given that both the teams will try their level best to get off on a winning note in Adelaide. However, coming into the Test series, none of the competing teams is in good shape as far as Tests are concerned. India played at England where they managed to win one Test and then proceeded to lose two Tests to the hosts. Australia received a 2-0 drubbing against Pakistan in the UAE. Even though the conditions were not in their favour, the final scoreline would not have pleased a team that is fiercely proud of its record in any condition.
Australia will be expected to win the series – even if not by a 4-0 margin as Glenn McGrath has predicted. It is playing in home conditions and probably has the slightly better team keeping that factor in mind. So the pressure will be on the players to deliver and the first Test could prove to be very crucial in that regard.
For India this series will be about getting the best result possible. The initial aim should be to win at least one game. Winning a Test series in Australia is not something that even the most diehard Indian fan would expect the players to do. However, a good display will only add to their confidence going into the World Cup and the Tri series before that. With this series Australia will also look to avenge their 4-0 defeat to India in India a couple of years back. In fact, Shane Watson has stated in no unclear terms that the Indian team has inflicted serious losses on them in their own backyard and now it is time to return the favour.
Conditions on offer
The first game is being played in Adelaide, a venue where India has traditionally done well. The wicket here is friendlier for batsmen than most other surfaces in Australia. It also aids spin bowling, which will help India a lot. It is for the Indians to perform well in this game and if possible get a good start to the series. A win should not be absolutely out of the question over here. However, it remains to be seen if the groundsmen actually prepare a deck that will help India.
Batting: India has a slight edge in terms of batting over Australia because its lineup is more or less settled. In all probability Shikhar Dhawan will open the innings with Murali Vijay with Cheteshwar Pujara slated to come in at number 3. Virat Kohli, who will lead the side in case MS Dhoni is unable to play, will bat at 4. Ajinkya Rahane will play and bat at number 5. Suresh Raina could come in if India decides to go in with 4 bowlers. In case Dhoni does not play, Wriddhiman Saha could get his first Test in Australia. In that case there is also a chance that Rohit Sharma might play.
On the other hand, Australia will probably open with David Warner and Chris Rogers, Rogers has not been in good form of late and this Test will give him an opportunity to start on a good note. They will probably be followed by Shane Watson, who will be making a comeback in this format. It is not clear if Clarke will play in the first Test. If he does, he will bat at number 4 and Steven Smith – right now the best Australian batsman will come in at number 5. Australia will probably use Mitchell Marsh at number 6 in the all rounder’s spot. Brad Haddin is supposed to play at number 7. In case Clarke does not play, Shaun Marsh will come in, having been drafted in as the replacement batsman.
Bowling: The conditions in Adelaide will suit spin bowling and so India could very well think of playing 2 spinners over here along with the 3 quick bowlers. In case 5 bowlers are played, probably both Ashwin and Jadeja will play. There is also an outside chance that Karn Sharma could play given the fact that he has bowled well in the preparatory games. However, if it is only 4 bowlers then perhaps Jadeja will get the nod and it will mean plenty of work with the ball for Raina. As far as quick bowling is concerned, Ishant and Shami will play alongwith Varun Aaron. The absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar – he will not play the first couple of games due to injury – will be felt.
Australia will most likely depend on its pace bowlers and will also select 3 of them. Mitchell Johnson is a certainty as is Ryan Harris because of their proven capability to pick up wickets. It remains to be seen whether the team management goes for Peter Siddle, with his experience and reduced pace, or Josh Hazlewood, who can be fairly quick and also get disconcerting bounce. Probably the balance seems to be tilted in Hazlewood’s favour because there are already bowlers like Marsh and Watson who can play the holding role. Nathan Lyon is going to be the only spinner and would receive some support from Steven Smith.