Domain Tests v India
India's batting edge offset by history
Virat Kohli’s team’s stability a vast contrast to Australia’s recent upheaval as they chase their first Test series win in Australia
Martin Smith in Adelaide
5 December 2018, 07:08 PM AEST
In the modern era of international cricket when Test series wins away from home are harder to find than relieving shade at the height of an Adelaide summer, it’s an oddity that the batsmen stationed in the visitors’ dressing room on Thursday will in many ways be more familiar in their surrounds than their hosts.
The XIs that were all but confirmed by Australia and India on Wednesday revealed at least one major selection surprise and underlined both the recent upheaval in the home team and the contrasting stability of the world’s top-ranked Test nation.
From those who played the corresponding Test four years ago, an emotionally-draining cliff hanger that was played in the backdrop of the tragic passing of Phillip Hughes, off-spinner Nathan Lyon is the only Australian who remains.
By comparison, seven members of the Indian side that came within 49 runs of a famous victory on their last visit here will take to the field again tomorrow as the tourists begin their latest quest to record a Test series win in Australia, seven decades after the first of their 11 failed attempts.
And although SA skipper Travis Head will feature in the Australian side this week, the first Redbacks player in 14 years to play a Test at his home ground, it was the visiting captain who was publicly declaring his love for the South Australian capital on match eve.
"I love coming to this ground and the city in general," said Indian skipper Virat Kohli.
"Coming to Adelaide, I feel different to every other place I’ve felt in the world.
"Every cricketer has a favourite ground away from home, and for me Adelaide has always been special because I scored my first Test ton here."
Kohli’s love affair with Australia, including five hundreds in eight Tests, has been well documented, but his batting teammates have warm memories of Test cricket Down Under as well.
Murali Vijay, KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane all scored centuries on India’s tour here four years ago, and the fact No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara has Test tons in Johannesburg and Southampton to his name – as well as two double centuries against the Aussies in India – suggests he has the capacity to join that club during the series.
In contrast, three members of Australia’s top six – Head, debutant Marcus Harris and opener Aaron Finch – will be playing their maiden home Tests this week, while newly reinstated Victorian Peter Handscomb has been given just a seventh cap on home soil.
“It certainly will help that we’ve played quite a few Test matches here before, and we’ve scored runs,” Kohli said.
“That’s even more important; to know that you’ve performed in a certain place and you know how to get runs there. It’s all about remembering those good things that we did and applying it here.
“Australia, if the batsmen apply themselves, can be a great place to bat. It takes character and it takes grinding out tough situations because the Australian team has great skills, especially their bowling attack.
“We need to step up as a batting group, we understand that.”
And of his own record at this venue – including three hundreds and an average of 98 – Kohli was quick to add: “But there’s no givens on the Adelaide pitch”.
In fact, it seems the only given about the 22-yard strip that has been meticulously prepared by curator Damien Hough over the past week is that it will be markedly different to the surface Kohli thrived on four years ago.
So much so that it helped instruct Australia’s major selection call on Thursday; by picking specialist batsman Handscomb ahead of allrounder Mitchell Marsh, Australia have strengthened their weakness – their batting - and weakened their strength, choosing to go without a fifth bowling option and backing their four-man attack to overcome both India’s batting and the draining Adelaide heat.
On a surface that has seen wickets fall at almost double the rate in three years of pink-ball Tests since India’s last visit here - 26 runs per wicket in 2015-17 compared to 48 runs per wicket in 2014 – in conditions that Hough is aiming to replicate even though the ball will be of a more traditional hue this week.
"The wicket over the last few years here has given enough throughout the game (to not need an allrounder),” skipper Tim Paine said of a ground where the average first-innings Test score in the five years since a drop-in pitch was installed has dropped to 344 from 422 in the previous decade.
“We've obviously got a lot of confidence in Nathan Lyon bowling a lot of overs if we need to. And probably the fact all our three quicks go in really fresh, we've got confidence in them, particularly at the start of the series.
“They will be bowling big overs if need be, and they are totally comfortable with that."
Having led his revamped side on winless tours to the traditionally unhappy locales of the UK and UAE earlier this year, the comforts of home – and the presence of four of the world’s top-20 ranked Test bowlers in his side - has left Paine rightfully bullish about his chances of recording his first Test and series win as skipper.
Even if the past nine months of upheaval, and his resulting surge from near retirement to the top job in Australian cricket in a little more than a year, came into sharp focus on Test eve.
“I just had an interview, a one-on-one, with Ricky Ponting and we went through the names of Australian Test captains over the years,” Paine said.
“So it is a little bit daunting to be in a bracket with some of those guys.
“I’m trying to keep it as simple as I can. I’m trying to be myself and do my job, which is first and foremost to wicket keep and bat.
“I’m hugely honoured to be captain of Australia, but I am not letting it weigh me down too much.”
Despite their familiarity with the City of Churches, it’s how heavily 70 years of history weighs on India over the next four weeks that will be one of the decisive factors in determining the fate of the series.
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar