AUSTRALIAN captain Pat Cummins (R) and his Indian counterpart Rohit Sharma pose with the Border-Gawaskar trophy on Wednesday.—AFP
AUSTRALIAN captain Pat Cummins (R) and his Indian counterpart Rohit Sharma pose with the Border-Gawaskar trophy on Wednesday.—AFP

NAGPUR: Indian skipper Rohit Sharma and Australian counterpart Pat Cummins on Wednesday brushed aside concerns about the pitch ahead of the first of four eagerly awaited Tests.

Australian commentators have said that a bone-dry pitch has been prepared in Nagpur to make life difficult for the visitors’ many left-handed batsmen in the match starting at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on Thursday.

Cricket writer Robert Craddock told broadcaster SEN that if parts of the pitch had been prepared specifically to target Australia’s left-handed batsmen, it would amount to “straight-up pitch doctoring”.

Former Australia all-rounder Simon O’Donnell said the International Cricket Council “should step in and do something about it, if they think it’s not right”.

But Cummins told reporters that Australia’s batters would take the pitch in their stride.

“Potentially, it looks a little bit dry for the left-handers and knowing how much traffic will probably go through there from the right-arm bowlers,” said Cummins.

“It might be a fair bit of rough out there. Again that’s something we just got to embrace. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be challenging at times, but we have batters who relish the chance to problem solve on their feet.

The skipper added, “Home teams want to win at home. I don’t think it’s a terrible thing. It’s another challenge and makes touring over here even harder when you know the conditions are custom-made for them.

“In Australia, we’re lucky we’ve normally got pace and bounce. Australia have a couple of quality spinners who can trouble us, no doubt about that.”

Australia’s set of key left-handers includes David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Matt Renshaw and Travis Head.

Their right-handers include Steve Smith — who scored three centuries including a brilliant 178 during Australia’s 2017 tour of India — and Marnus Labuschagne, currently number one in the ICC Test rankings.

Cummins said that getting a good first-innings lead in India was more important than anywhere else in the world.

“You just got to find a way to put a big total on the board, especially thinking if it’s going to spin, it’s going to get really hard in the second innings,” the fast bowler said.

Indian skipper Sharma also downplayed concerns about the pitch, saying that the “focus is on playing the game”.

“[In the] last series we played here, a lot was spoken about pitches. All 22 [players] are quality cricketers and not bothered about how much it is turning, how much it is seaming and all that.”

Rohit further said that batters from both sides would have to think on their feet to counter spin.

“When the ball spins a lot, your method of scoring runs becomes very important,” explained the opener.

“You’ll have to rotate strike, and see how can you score runs — sweep, reverse sweep, using your feet ... That’s what we’ve told the boys — ‘find your own ways of scoring runs’. It’s going to be challenging.

India are likely to field three spinners, including Ravichandran Ashwin and the returning Ravindra Jadeja, but Sharma did not reveal the starting line-up.

Cummins confirmed that Australia would be without injured pacers Josh Hazlewood (Achilles tendon) and Mitchell Starc (finger) as well as all-rounder Cameron Green (finger).

“We will announce the team at the toss tomorrow but we are really confident on everyone in our touring party,” Cummins told reporters.

“Cameron is injured, so he won’t play, same as Josh.”

He said he was “disappointed that they are not available. Hopefully, both [will] come back online for the second Test match.”

But he added that Scott Boland “has been with us for the last 12 months and performed well in all conditions... We feel really really happy with the depth that we have.”

Australia may blood uncapped Todd Murphy alongside fellow off-spinner Nathan Lyon, and Peter Handscomb might pip Matthew Renshaw for the number six position to bring right-handed variety in their southpaw-heavy lineup.

“I think it is a factor over here,” Cummins said. “With so much traffic from the right-handers’ bowling, at times there is a bit more out there for the left handers.

“Nathan is going to be right up there with our most important bowlers,” Cummins said of the champion off-spinner, who has claimed 460 wickets in 115 Tests.

Foreign teams have often struggled to overcome conditions in India, with England thrashed 3-1 in 2021.

Australia last won a Test series in India in 2004 and India have won the teams’ last three encounters, including twice in Australia.

A draw in any of the four Tests will be enough to secure world number one Australia a place in the ICC World Test Championship final at The Oval in June.

Second-placed India need to win at least 3-0 to assure themselves of a spot in that final for the second year running.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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