India will be delighted by news the first Test pitch in Adelaide is green and pace-friendly, with Australia a far more daunting opponent on the flat surfaces that have been common in recent summers.
Adelaide Oval curator Damien Hough said his pitch will sport a generous grass covering, just as it has across the last three summers when it has been very helpful to the quicks.
Australia have become dominant on flat Test pitches because they’re the only side, apart from South Africa, with a bowling attack capable of consistently taking 20 wickets on such dead surfaces.
Whereas when Australia play on juicier pitches, the pace and bounce advantage their attack typically enjoys is far less relevant.
The classic example of this was the 2015 Ashes, during which Australia lost the three Tests played on seam-friendly pitches but destroyed England in the two matches on comparatively lifeless decks.
Not only do the home side’s bowlers have more experience bowling on roads than the Indian attack, but their pace bowlers are swifter and much taller. India’s quicks, while skilful, are not nearly as dynamic. This is a crucial shortcoming on unresponsive Aussie pitches, as we saw during last summer’s Ashes, when even an in-form James Anderson struggled for penetration.
The one Test in which the English pace attack did look threatening was at Adelaide, where Anderson took six wickets, compared to just 11 wickets across the other four Tests, when he was neutered by the sleepy surfaces.
At Adelaide, Anderson (5-43) and Chris Woakes (4-36) rolled Australia for 136 in the second innings. While that carnage occurred mostly under lights, and this week’s match is a daytime fixture, India’s attack will surely fancy their chances against a depleted and inexperienced Australian batting lineup.
Crucially, India’s quicks have played on a host of lively surfaces during their eight Tests in England and SA. While their batsmen laboured on those decks – Virat Kohli apart – their pacemen exploited the favourable conditions, challenging the South African and English on their home turf.
Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav combined to average just 25 across those eight Tests in England and South Africa.
These are their individual returns across those two away Test series:
1. Mohammed Shami – 31 wickets at 28 from eight Tests
2. Jasprit Bumrah – 28 wickets at 25 from six Tests
3. Ishant Sharma – 26 wickets at 22 from seven Tests
4. Bhuvneshwar Kumar – 10 wickets at 20 from two Tests
5. Umesh Yadav – 3 wickets at 25 from one Test
The first three of those pacemen should front up at Adelaide this week, alongside veteran off-spinner Ravi Ashwin. Although they all are right armers, each offers something different.
Shami is the most attacking, beanpole Ishant gets the most bounce, and Bumrah typically bowls his deliveries from a sharp angle, wide on the crease.
Shami maintains the fullest length, seeking to draw batsmen on to the front foot so that he can earn edges or target the stumps with his late swing. This proved effective in England and SA and will threaten the Australian top order if the Adelaide pitch is as juicy as predicted.
This will set up an enticing battle between Shami and expected Australian debutant Marcus Harris, whose game is built around front-foot driving.
Bumrah, meanwhile, may have just six Tests to his name, but he has quickly established himself as one of the most accurate quicks in the format. That is no surprise given his relentless precision helped him become arguably the world’s best-limited overs fast bowler.
He is particularly dangerous against right-handed batsmen, angling the ball back in at their stumps. In this way he shapes as a potential nightmare opponent for new Australian opener Aaron Finch, who has a habit of getting caught on the crease when right arm seamers bring the ball back at him.
Bumrah also will look forward to bowling to Mitch Marsh who, like Finch, has a habit of planting his front foot too early, making his lead pad a target for canny quicks.
Then there’s the 193cm-tall Ishant, who is a vastly-improved bowler since his last Test tour of Australia, in 2014. Ishant’s wrist position was fantastic throughout the tours of England and South Africa and this allowed him to earn generous lateral movement both through the air and off the seam.
When bowling to right-handers, he challenges both of their edges, but he is especially effective against left-handers because of his rare ability to bowl around the wicket with accuracy and consistent movement.
Frequently he angles the ball in towards left-handers and then gets it to straighten off the pitch. His acute angle from around-the-wicket convinces them they have to play more deliveries than they really need to.
He is the bowler I expect to most trouble Australia’s best batsman, Usman Khawaja. If Ishant can get into a rhythm from around the wicket, he can also exploit the weaknesses of Shaun Marsh and Travis Head – two left-handers with a propensity for sparring with hard hands at deliveries outside off stump.
The Adelaide pitch looks set to provide these Indian quicks with near-perfect conditions in which to execute these strategies.