After Australia’s enthralling, dramatic and emotion-charged 48-run first Test victory over India in Adelaide, an equally fascinating encounter in Brisbane – the original venue for the eventually rescheduled series opener – begins on Tuesday.
The big story is Steve Smith’s elevation to the Australian captaincy in the wake of Michael Clarke’s career-threatening injury setbacks – and the in-form 25-year-old faces a stern test of his credentials at the Gabba, particularly after Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni was given the all-clear to return from a thumb complaint.
Even Smith’s teammates were stunned at the announcement – vice-captain Brad Haddin the seemingly logical choice to step into the breach after steering Australia home when Clarke left Adelaide Oval during an unforgettable final day.
But Clarke, along with a plethora of former greats, has endorsed Smith as the ideal candidate to take over and become Australia’s 45th Test skipper. Smith, in brilliant batting form, has elevated himself to No.4, with Clarke’s replacement in the line-up, Shaun Marsh, to come in at No.5.
Veteran bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have been replaced by young quicks Mitchell Starc and debutant Josh Hazlewood; Harris has picked up a quad strain, but Siddle has been left out for form reasons.
Australia: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Dhoni reclaims the captaincy from Virat Kohli – who led magnificently for the gallant tourists with a century in each innings – and replaces Wriddiman Saha behind the stumps.
Meanwhile, Ravi Ashwin looks set to come into the side for spinner Karn Sharma, who took two wickets in both innings on debut, as India looks to bolster their lower order batting – an area where the tourists fell down badly in Adelaide.
India (probable): Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Aninkya Rahane, Rohi Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, Ravi Ashwin, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami.
First Test studs
Both sides boasted a clutch of magnificent performers in the Adelaide Oval classic. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was man-of-the-match with a career-defining 12-wicket haul, although his impact on a traditionally fast and bouncy Gabba pitch may be muted. David Warner was at his blistering best, racking up a century in each innings (145 and 102) in an inspiring display, while Smith wasn’t far behind, top-scoring in the first innings with 162 before a quick-fire 52 not out in Australia’s second dig. Smith will need to be wary of the weight of responsibility affecting his batting touch – his team desperately needs his rich vein of form to keep flowing. Mitchell Johnson took two wickets in each innings, while Ryan Harris was his usual workhorse self.
Stand-in skipper Virat Kohli was India’s hero, scoring 115 in the first innings and crafting a superb 141 in the second that almost saw the visitors pull off an unlikely victory. Opener Murali Vijay enjoyed a fine match with the willow, posting 53 and a painstaking 99, while Cheteshwar Pujara’s 73 and Ajinkya Rahane’s 62 in the first innings were India’s only other half-century efforts. In the bowling stakes, Ishant Sharma toiled hard for little reward but was economical, while Karn Sharma’s four wickets for the match were a team high.
First Test duds
The pressure continues to mount on opener Chris Rogers after his return of 9 and 21, while Shane Watson’s return to the Test side (14 and 33) at No.3 was underwhelming. Brad Haddin, whose leadership will again be crucial in Brisbane, will be eager for a handy score after a five-ball duck in the first innings; the ’keeper finished 14 not out before Clarke’s second innings declaration. All-rounder Mitchell Marsh made 40 and 41 with the bat but ended the match wicketless, although overall his performance was solid.
India’s lower order would have spent plenty of hours in the nets over the last few days after an abysmal rearguard effort in Adelaide – Mohammad Shami’s rapid 34 in the first innings was the highest score by India’s last five batsmen, while stand in wicketkeeper Wriddinham Saha (25 and 13) was the only other to reach double figures in the match. Opener Shikhar Dhawan (25 and 9) had a forgettable match, while Rohit Sharma’s ODI heroics are fading into the background after scoring 43 and 6. On the other side of the ball, India’s bowlers need to provide far more penetration and create chances if they are to avoid another stack of big Australian partnerships at the Gabba.
Australia has a phenomenal record at the Gabba, winning 18 and drawing seven of the last 25 Tests at the ground. Their last loss at the traditional series-opening venue came against the West Indies in 1988. India has not played in Brisbane since 2003, when the international foes drew a match heavily impacted by rain. The previous Gabba Test between the countries was in 1991 – a 10-wicket win to Australia inside four days, Craig McDermott the standout with nine wickets in a match that did not feature a single century.
The weather could adversely affect the second Test, with thunderstorms forecast for Thursday and a chance of rain on Sunday. Day 1 is set reach a sweltering 39 degrees – no doubt accompanied by some of that thick, pit-stain rendering Brisbane mugginess.
— Sportal (@SportalAU) December 16, 2014