Five days after the first Test was originally scheduled to begin in Brisbane, Australia and India will take to Adelaide Oval for the series opener – both squads, no doubt, running out onto the hallowed turf with heavy hearts. It shapes as a difficult experience for the traditional adversaries, who both attended Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville less than a week ago.
It will be five days of Test cricket the likes of which we’ve never seen; in the overwhelming results-driven climate the highest levels of professional sport are played in, the result of this match almost seems secondary – it’s more about getting back on the horse and moving forward from arguably the game’s greatest-ever tragedy.
Crucially, Australian captain Michael Clarke – such a pillar of strength over the last fortnight – has been named to play after being in serious doubt with a hamstring injury. Young pace-man Josh Hazelwood and Shaun Marsh are the players to miss out on the home side’s XI. There’s certainly no lack of experience, particularly in the bowling attack, while Shane Watson returns to make his first Test appearance since the tour of South Africa early in 2014 – most likely in the vital No.3 slot.
Australia: 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Nathan Lyon.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 8, 2014
Meanwhile, Clarke’s Indian counterpart MS Dhoni has withdrawn injured. The side will be captained by Virat Kohli and Wriddiman Saha comes in as wicketkeeper for his third Test – and his first since January 2012. Fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar also looks set to be ruled out with injury.
India (probable): 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Wriddiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Varun Aaron, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Mohammad Shami.
Tribute to ‘Hughesy’
Phillip Hughes has been named as 13th man for Australia, while the team will have 408 – Hughes’ Australian Test cap number – under the crest on their shirts.
— Neroli Meadows (@Neroli_M_FOX) December 7, 2014
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 8, 2014
The short ball
Understandably, there has been plenty of attention surrounding the use of the bouncer in this Test, particularly with Hughes’ death so fresh in the hearts and minds of every player, official and fan. The reality, most likely, is that it will play as much of a role as it usually does, although without the vitriol and intimidation tactics that usually accompany short-pitched barrages – and have unfortunately come under a harsh and unnecessary spotlight in the wake of the tragedy.
As incongruous as it seems for a toss decision to hinge on anything other than winning the match, Australia will surely be keen to bat first and let India set the tone with their bowling; that albatross will hang a hell of lot lighter around the necks of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle than if they have to trundle in on the morning of Day 1.
To shelve the short ball would be to ignore one of Johnson’s – and Australia’s – foremost strengths. But as we’ve outlined earlier, this match is about more than chalking up a Test victory.
“The first spell might be the most difficult. Then we might just get back into the game a bit more,” Johnson said ahead of the Test.
Australia took an absolute pummelling from Pakistan in the UAE in October/November, crashing to losses of 221 runs and 356 runs in the two-Test series. Pakistan were beyond brilliant, but the tourists were insipid with bat and ball, and their performances were put into perspective by New Zealand’s second Test draw and third Test innings victory against Pakistan in recent weeks.
The form of the top order – with opener Chris Rogers under the pump big-time – and penetration from bowlers other than Johnson are the areas that require the biggest improvements. It should be remembered that Australia’s previous effort in the Test arena was a fine 2-1 series win in South Africa in February/March.
Unstoppable in their recent ODI series against Sri Lanka, most notably the record-shattering achievements of Rohit Sharma, India enhanced their reputation as poor travellers with a 3-1 series loss in England in July/August. Following a first Test draw and a handy win in the second clash at Lord’s, India lost three straight Tests – the last two by an innings. They also suffered 1-0 losses in two-Test away series against New Zealand and South Africa during the last southern hemisphere summer.
Australia has a fine record at Adelaide Oval, winning 13, drawing four and losing just two of their last 19 Tests at the venue. India’s last visit to the venue (in early-2012) resulted in a 298-run flogging at the hands of Australia, but they managed a draw there in 2008 and a four-wicket win in 2003.
Last time they met
Australia’s tour of India in February/March of 2013 was a nightmare, losing each of the four Tests in comprehensive fashion. An Australian side in transition took India to the cleaners on home soil during the 2011-12 summer, winning all four Tests convincingly.