Australia v India Tests

Bengaluru beckons for charging Aussies

Second Test venue perfectly scheduled to play to Australia's strengths but Pune victory has India rethinking pitch planning

Andrew Ramsey, in Pune

26 February 2017, 10:19 PM

Match Wrap: Aussies thrash India in Pune

If Australia were allowed their choice of venues at which to try and convert their current series lead into an unassailable 2-0 advantage to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy it would be the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.

Where, as fortune has it, the second Test of this four-match Qantas Tour of India begins on Saturday.

Having arrived in India as overwhelming underdogs to secure a game, let alone take the series, Steve Smith's team exuded an air of steely self-belief the morning after their thumping 333-run win in the opening skirmish at Pune where neither team had previously played a Test.

That confidence galvanised by the knowledge the battle resumes on a field that, far from being foreign, is by far the happiest hunting ground for Australian teams who have historically found the subcontinent about as welcoming as a US immigration officer.

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Since their first somewhat reluctant tour to India under Ian Johnson in 1956, Australia have played 47 Tests and won just 13 of them – a winning percentage of 27.66.

But of the five Tests they've played at Bengaluru (or Bangalore as the thriving commercial hub in the central southern state of Karnataka was known when the Australians first ventured there for a Test in 1979) that success ratio is 40 per cent.

Indeed, they have lost just once from five Tests at the cavernous Chinnaswamy Stadium (in 2010) and one prominent former Australia Test bowler yesterday suggested the ground was "the Lord's of India", invoking Australia's remarkable record at cricket's historic home in London where they have been defeated just twice in the past eight decades.

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The reason for Australia's comparative success in Bengaluru, as the former great explained it, has been the nature of the pitch which traditionally offers more bounce than any other Test strip in India.

As exemplified by statistics that show four of the five bowlers to average less than 25 runs per wicket at Bengaluru are seamers – Glenn McGrath (six wickets at 15.67), Michael Kasprowicz (10 at 17), Jason Gillespie (five at 19.20) and Shane Watson (five at 21.60).

But questions as to whether a 'typical' Chinnaswamy track is awaiting the tourists when they arrive in the city of more than 10 million people late on Tuesday will become clearer at their first pre-Test training session the following afternoon.

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The only certainty is they are unlikely to be confronted by the dry, crumbling surface that both teams were surprised to find at the new stadium in Pune that had previously established a reputation for delivering true pitches that favour batters and pace bowlers.

It was, instead, a rank turner that made the coin toss pivotal and – as Smith noted in his post-match media conference – effectively brought the teams closer together and even "played into the hands" of the Australians.

As a consequence, Australia coach Darren Lehmann is expecting vastly different conditions at Bengaluru after his team inflicted India's first Test defeat at home since 2012, and scored their first success on the subcontinent in more than 4,500 days.

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"I think it will be better," was Lehmann's blunt assessment when asked today what he expected from the pitch at Bengaluru.

"But at the end of the day you can't control that, you get what you get.

"It (the Pune pitch) spun from day one, but that happened last year (when Australia lost 3-0 in Sri Lanka). And it's happened to us before.

"You've just got to play on it and play the best that you can. That's the way we played for two and a half days (in Pune)."

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The Australians quietly believe their success in the opening Test – their biggest (in terms of runs) win in India since the 342-run victory at Nagpur in the landmark 2004 campaign – has presented something of a conundrum for their hosts.

That serving up a spinners' pitch has shown to be fraught with peril, as it proved to their detriment at Pune.

And that the alternatives – a flat batting track, which seems the most likely outcome for Bengaluru, or a pitch sporting grass that offers encouragement to seamers – would rate about as likely the early arrival of the mid-year monsoon.

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In the wake of his team's defeat, India captain Virat Kohli confirmed that he had not been involved in any discussions regarding pitch preparation for Pune.

And that he did not believe the Test strip was vastly different to other spin-friendly pitches that have been rolled out in India during the current season that has so far contained nine Tests against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and now Australia, or in years previously.

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Rather than the pitch being the decisive element of Pune's historic first Test that was over in less than three days and robbed the ground of a bumper Sunday crowd, it was India's shortcomings that produced the result he claimed.

"I don't think it was any different from the turners that we played in the past," Kohli said at match's end.

"We just didn't play good cricket. You can ask me any sort of question or any perception about the loss.

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"We know exactly what happened, the mistakes that we made.

"I can assure you that we are going to come back with more intent for sure and put Australia under pressure straight from ball one (next Saturday)."

The scare delivered by the Pune result on a pitch expected to be more familiar to India also seems likely to reduce the likelihood of Australia employing three specialist spinners despite boasting four (plus spin bowling allrounder Glenn Maxwell) in their 16-man squad.

The rationale being that if they opted to employ seamer Mitchell Marsh as their fifth bowling on a dry, dusty pitch in Pune it's unlikely there will be conditions more suited to an extra spinner awaiting at Bengaluru, Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Not that Lehmann was foreshadowing any selection decisions now that his team has taken an early advantage in the series, having seriously flirted with the idea of playing left-arm spinner Ashton Agar as the allrounder ahead of Marsh in the series opener.

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"Yes and no," was his ambiguous answer when asked if the chances of playing three specialist spinners was now most likely past.

"It really depends on what we get (in Bengaluru) I suppose.

"It was a tight call (in Pune), we just picked the attack that we thought would get 20 wickets, knowing spinners were going to get most of them.

"But you've obviously got two quality quicks in Hazlewood and Starc, that's our best attack at the moment.

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"When we get into Bangalore we'll sum that up."

There is already talk that India will dispense with their third spinner Jayant Yadav, who claimed 2-101 with his off-breaks at Pune, and will make way for seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar at Bangalore.

Or that they might opt to bolster their batting by adding Karun Nair, who scored an unbeaten 303 in the final Test against England last December before being dropped.

Test Squads

India (for first two Tests): Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandaran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya.

Australia: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Stephen O'Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade

Australia's schedule in India

Feb 17-19, Tour match v India A, Mumbai

Feb 23-27, First Test: Australia won by 333 runs, Pune

Mar 4-8, Second Test, Bengaluru

Mar 16-20, Third Test, Ranchi

Mar 25-29, Fourth Test, Dharamsala