Australia and India have shared the honours so far, setting the stage for the Test series
It has been a long cricketing summer Down Under for the Indian team and the current tour has another six weeks left. In these days of rush-hour cricket, the previous template of early arrival and languid warm-up matches no longer holds relevance. But the need to be in bio-bubbles during the pandemic demands that teams land a fortnight in advance, go through their mandatory health-checks before being medically certified to play. India arrived in Australia on November 12 and in the intervening period played three One Day Internationals (ODIs) and three Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). Australia seized the ODIs at 2-1 and India responded with an identical scoreline in the subsequent T20Is, the last of which concluded at Sydney on Tuesday with the host securing a 12-run victory. Swept aside by the gargantuan totals that Australia posted in the ODIs, Virat Kohli’s men slowly found their collective voice, which turned into a roar in the shortest format. In a mixed-bag first month out in Australia, India can cherish the success of Hardik Pandya, specifically with the bat, and the steady exploits of left-arm seamer T. Natarajan, hailing from Chinnappampatti, a village near Salem in Tamil Nadu. However, connoisseurs would perhaps say that the tour begins only now as the series involving four Tests looms ahead.
Countering Australia in its backyard is an arduous task. Starting its intermittent tours of Australia in the 1947-48 season when Lala Amarnath led the troops, India registered its maiden Test series victory (2-1) only during the 2018-19 face-off. But Australia missed Steve Smith and David Warner, who were benched following the ball-tampering crisis. The current Australian team includes them now though an injured Warner has been ruled out of the first Test commencing at Adelaide on December 17, incidentally a day-and-night contest. But Smith is in ominous form and in Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine’s men have their next batting star. India will have Kohli just for the first outing before the skipper takes his paternity leave and there is no clarity yet on Rohit Sharma’s return. When Kohli departs, the batting will lean on Cheteshwar Pujara, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, K.L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari to counter Mitchell Starc and his snarling colleagues. Pujara, all patience and the long-vigil, amassed 521 runs during the last tour and an encore would be most welcome. The bowling rests on speedsters Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami besides R. Ashwin, if spin comes into play. Bumrah and Shami weren’t at their best in the limited-overs clashes and they need to get their mojo back if India is to make a strong fist against a doughty opponent.