DUAL INTERVIEW with Johns and Charbel – AUSvIND Test Series Preview – 8
Jay – It’s the return of the longest format of the game for both the teams after the covid-19 break, how excited are you for this series?
Johns – India vs Australia is always exciting especially Test series if you look at recent times, only Australia has come close to winning a series in India in Tests and India is the only team to beat Australia in Test series in last few years, which shows how close and evenly matched are the series. Looking forward to this and with early wakeups.
Charbel – So excited. I have been hoping for a very long time that the COVID-19 situation continues to improve in Australia so that we can see this series. Thankfully, it has. Also, Australian fans will be looking forward to this series hoping for the team to right the wrongs of 2018/19.
Jay – How are the pitches expected to behave in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane?
Johns – Pink ball Test in Adelaide will be interesting, will teams declare just before the night session and making it tough for the opposition is something to see but pitches have always offered true bounce and the captain would want to always bat first, make big scores, put the opposition under pressure.
Charbel – In 2018/19, the slower surfaces in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney suited India, so it will be interesting to see how the pitches will be this time. Usually:
Adelaide is a good batting track, with assistance for the spinners later in the Test. But, given the Test will be a day/night one, expect the pink ball to move around under lights.
Melbourne has been under the spotlight in recent years due to flat, slow pitches. The MCG pitch against New Zealand last year had some grass on it to assist the bowlers. Expect this to be the case again as no sport has been played in Melbourne due to lockdown earlier this year.
Sydney, similarly to Adelaide, can assist the spinners later in the Test. But, the grass was kept on the pitch for the Australia A vs India match, which could happen in the Test.
Brisbane is one of the bounciest pitches in Australia. Expect this to remain the case for this series. It is a key reason why Australia hasn’t lost on this ground since the late 1980s.
Jay – The big question, can India perform in the absence of Kohli?
Johns – Presence of Virat Kohli can make a big impact in the match but India need to think that they won against Australia in 2018 without much contribution from Virat on his standard but still, the gap will be big and all likely KL might replace him.
Charbel – Yes, but India must ensure they don’t rely too heavily on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. This is the concern. The opening combination will be key for India in setting a strong platform, with contributions and partnerships down the order. Rohit Sharma passing his fitness test is a source of good news for India, and he will be key when he plays. However, the techniques of the Indian batsmen will be tested. Discipline and patience will be the key.
Jay – Last time Pujara played here, he scored ample amount of runs and was adjudged man of the series as well, can he repeat that performance?
Johns – Pujara needs to repeat what he did in 2018 in the absence of Kohli or else it will be tough for India to make any kind of fight in the series. There will be plans against him, making him uncomfortable with bouncers and more. It will be Pujara vs Australian pace trio will decide the series.
Charbel – One feels that he has to if India is to win this series. It will be the same attack for Australia (if Starc plays in the 1st Test), so Pujara should feel confident in his ability to wear Australia down. Repeating such an amazing performance is never easy, so Pujara needs to do what he does best: focus on the next ball.
Jay – Thoughts on Ajinkya Rahane as captain for India?
Johns – Rahane has proven as a leader in the absence of Virat Kohli in the longer format but both the matches were in India, still the 4th Test win in 2017 series was brilliant especially under lots of pressure, series on the line and without Kohli, he did a great job.
Charbel – Ajinkya Rahane has a calm demeanour, which could be very beneficial to the team. In a big series like this, you want to ensure your players are as relaxed as possible. Rahane can enable this, especially if he can lead by example with his batting.
Jay – Saha or Pant?
Johns – Pant, I think he should be the first choice keeper in Tests. The main issue with most fans who are backing Saha is that they compare an extraordinary keeper with Pant but that doesn’t mean Pant is bad but he is a very good safe keeper and he will improve while playing more as I have been saying for many years. And the quicks runs of Pant can make a big difference if the series is a close one.
Charbel – Rishabh Pant has shown good signs for India in overseas Tests to date. He was excellent in his last tour of Australia in 2018/19, with 350 runs in the four Tests at an average of 58.33. He deserves the first crack, even though Saha is also a good option.
Jay – India will be playing their first away pink ball test against Australia, how will they perform in your view?
Charbel – India’s batting against the moving and bouncing ball has not been good in the tour matches. So, given this will be what they will face in Adelaide in the day/night Test, they need to show significant improvement. The trio of Pujara, Kohli and Rahane will be very important in those conditions.
But, while the batting is a concern, the bowling can cause damage. We all know how brilliant Bumrah is, and Shami is a wicket-taker. Ishant Sharma is a loss for India, but the likes of Mohammad Siraj and Umesh Yadav have the potential to perform well. India will need them to.
Jay – It looks like David Warner might find himself in the dressing room for the first game but his return in the International Cricket has been terrific, your thoughts?
Johns – Yes, absence of Warner is a relief for India and their openers haven’t been amongst runs so India can try to make early inroads in the Australian batting unit and put pressure on Smith and Labuschagne.
Charbel – Big loss for Australia, given his incredible record at home. Warner’s injury feels like an even bigger blow given the struggles of Joe Burns, concussion to Will Pucovski and general uncertainty around who will open for the Aussies. Australia will hope he can be back fit and firing for Boxing Day, as the team missed his services during the series loss vs India in 2018/19.
Jay – How to get Steven Smith out?
Johns – Patience will be important. India should not try to do what Wagner did last summer continuously because it’s a skill only for Wagner but can be used as a surprise package. I believe dry the runs, in the 5th stump line to keep Smith under pressure.
Charbel – New Zealand provided a bit of a template last year. If you are to bowl a good length at Smith, make sure it’s not too straight. Keep the ball at around a 5th-6th stump line on a good length, and test Smith’s patience in the process. Then, surprise Smith with the short ball and see if he will attack it. You can keep two men out on the boundary on the legside to wait for a catch.
The key is not feeding Smith with easy run-scoring opportunities. Anything on his pads will be easy pickings for him. Discipline and patience will be the key against such a fine batsman.
Jay – How important Labuschagne is for Australia in the middle order?
Johns – Labuschagne is vital at 3, in the absence of Warner, we might see him coming early in the first Test as their openers aren’t in good form. He did all the job in last summer against Pakistan and New Zealand so will be looking to continue the form – the new ball spell of Bumrah, Shami, Umesh will be a big test of his game, if India can silent him, that will put massive pressure on Smith and make Australian batting unit shaky.
Charbel – Labuschagne’s rise has been such a big positive for Australia and is a big strength ahead of the series. Labuschagne is even more important with the absence of Warner. If Marnus can get in and produce the runs he has in Test cricket, it reduces the pressure on Smith and the remainder of the batting lineup.
Jay – Tim Paine’s captaincy has been good and it has produced results for Australia considering they are now number 1 in test rankings, Justin Langer would want him to score runs though, don’t you think?
Johns – Tim Paine has been contributing with the bat, it’s not easy to bat at 7, mostly they will be having a partnership with tailenders. As a captain, after sandpaper, he lead so well along with Langer as coach, it is not easy to overcome from that incident but they are number 1 in ranking and he will be looking to continue the position.
Charbel – Tim Paine has a good batting technique, but unfortunately that isn’t reflected in his numbers. If the skipper can contribute runs at number seven, it will hold Australia in great stead. Also, it will boost Paine’s confidence and he can lead the side with an extra spring in his step. That being said, the good job Paine has done can’t be understated. He has brought a sense of calm after a chaotic period in Australian cricket post sandpaper-gate. Not bad for a temporary captain!
Jay – India have played Starc well in the last couple of years and his form has also dipped. Can Starc get his rhythm back this series?
Johns – Pink ball test will be Starc favouring to perform against India and I think they can rotate with James Pattinson if needed who has done well in certain grounds in Australia so they have options to look at but with the pink ball, it won’t be easy against Starc.
Charbel – Starc has all the skills – height, pace and swing – to have a great series. But, consistency is the issue for him. He can find that rhythm, especially given that he has had a great last couple of years in Tests. Since the start of 2019, Starc has taken 46 wickets in nine Tests at an average of 20.68. Australia will be hoping for more of that sort of form.
Jay – Australia will be relying heavily on one bowler and his name is Patrick Cummins, how will he perform in this series in your view?
Johns – Don’t think they are heavily relying on Cummins, they have Hazlewood as well who has done well in almost every series for Australia – they have good mix and backups in the longer format, unlike other formats. In the spin department, there is Lyon for the 4th innings so as a group they are doing well in last few years.
Charbel – Pat Cummins is certainly key, but I don’t think Australia will be relying heavily on him. Josh Hazlewood is an outstanding bowler, and his partnership with Cummins will be great to watch. Also, Nathan Lyon can hold things together as he does so often, and Cameron Green, if picked, can deliver some effective overs. In terms of Cummins, I think he will have a fine series. Not only does he have pace, but his consistency is also second-to-none. We saw that in the 2019 Ashes. His ability to bang away on a good length with the surprise bouncer has been crucial to success, and I am confident we will see more of the same.
Jay – Who are the key players from both the camps?
Johns – India – Pujara and Bumrah.
Australia – Smith and Cummins.
Charbel – Australia: Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon. If these five players perform, it will lift the entire squad. David Warner will also be key when he returns.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (first Test), Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin. These five or six India players will need to outplay their counterparts. If they can lead the way, India has a chance of winning. Also, the news that Rohit Sharma has cleared his fitness Test is a boost.
Jay – Predictions for the four-match test series?
Johns – Australia has the upper hand, without Ishant and Kohli, winning a 4 Test series is tough for any team away from home these days, backing Australia to win 2-0 or 3-0.
Charbel – From an Australian perspective, I am quite confident about Australia’s chances. Not only will Australia be buoyed by the return of Steven Smith and eventually David Warner (and rise of Marnus), but one feels the Australians would have learnt from their mistakes in the last series.
In 2018/19, Australia would often produce partnerships of 20 and 30, only to lose a wicket. This time, the focus will be on big partnerships, especially with Steve Smith back in the fold. Also, the Aussies will look to be aggressive against the Indian batting lineup with pace and movement.
For India, I am concerned about their batting. One should be careful about drawing conclusions from tour games, but I feel Australia has more runs in them, particularly if the pitches have some good bounce in them. Lots will depend on Pujara and Rahane to perform. Also, the loss of Ishant Sharma, along with Kohli for three Tests, is a massive blow for India.
In my honest, unbiased opinion, I think Australia will win 2 or 3 nil. Hope this doesn’t come back to bite me! Looking forward to a good series.