On October 2, 1980, over 2 billion people tuned into watch the ‘Last Hurrah’ – a monumental boxing bout between The Great Muhammad Ali and rising star Larry Holmes.
The Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) announced the squads that will play all three formats of cricket this Australian summer. My interest was first and foremost on the Test squad.
The bulk of that squad is the same that came to Australia in 2018 – just four members of the 18-man Test squad weren’t present on the last tour.
Out of the squad are Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, Parthiv Patel, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay, with Shubman Gill, Wriddiham Saha, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj coming in.
Pandya’s non-selection probably comes as no surprise, while Patel and Vijay are past their best. The main losses for India are Rohit and Ishant Sharma, both not considered because of injury.
Rohit Sharma was no certainty to open the batting in the upcoming Test series. He had an average series the last time he visited Australia (35.33 ave) and his form in the few Tests he’d played since, has been boom (529 runs against South Africa – ave 132.33), or bust (27 runs against Bangladesh in one Test at 13.50).
Prithvi Shaw replaced Sharma at the top of the order for the Black Cap series and he didn’t make the most of his opportunities (98 runs at 24.50).
The Indian selectors have caused confusion for their supporters because KL Rahul, another opener, has been named vice-captain. That would seem to imply two things; he will play in all four Tests and will take one of the top two spots in the order.
Compounding the confusion is the selection of the other opener. Mayank Agarwal is injured, yet has been chosen, while Rohit Sharma is also injured but not chosen, presumably because his injury may take longer to heal.
So as it stands right now, India have two fit openers with Test experience in Privthi Shaw and KL Rahul, one of whom is a talent but still in his Test infancy, while the other has an underwhelming record as a Test opener.
India also seemed to have hedged their bets, including a fourth opener in Shubman Gill. He’s yet to play a Test, but his first class average of 73.55, suggests that, at 21, he could be a long term option at the top of the Indian order.
At the other end of the lineup, Ishant Sharma was a lock to be the third member of the pace attack, led by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami.
Ishant had a very good series against Australia last time round, taking 11 wickets at 23.81 and being an integral part of India’s success.
He followed that up with an excellent series in the West Indies, was not at his best against South Africa, but bounced back strongly against Bangladesh and proved a handful in his only Test in New Zealand.
He’s proven more than once that he knows how to bowl in Australian conditions. Ricky Ponting would agree with that.
His replacements are Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj.
Neither have played Test cricket, which presents its own problems when your first Test is against the number one ranked team at their place. We saw last year with the Pakistan attack, that talent and youthful exuberance is no replacement for experience at this level.
India will be hoping both bowlers adapt well to Australian conditions because I’m guessing they’ll adopt a rotation policy to keep their quicks fresh, while also using bowlers best suited to conditions.
The First Test in Adelaide being a day-night game, should suit Siraj, who’s a fair bit slower than Saini, but can move the ball appreciably – not good news for Dave Warner!
Saini has been clocked in excess of 150kmh and while he’s enjoyed success in T20 cricket, it remains to be seen whether he can bowl at pace against quality batsmen for sustained periods. He’ll certainly enjoy the Gabba pitch, but do India hold him back for that game, or try him on much flatter decks in Melbourne & Sydney?
India won the last series in Australia, in spite of, not because of, their opening batsmen. In 7 innings, they managed to pass 50 only once, but still managed to build scores their bowlers could defend.
The major differences in this series will be the return of David Warner and Steve Smith and the rise of Marnus Labuschagne, against an attack that will have at least one very inexperienced fast bowler for all four Tests.
Kohli’s men might get away with having an unsettled opening pair, given the batting quality he, Cheteshwar Pujara and others possess, but that one inexperienced member of his bowling attack could make all the difference in this series.