From the broad glass panes of the press box, the sight of Australian cricketers surrounding the pitch for a closer look when the covers were removed briefly, was all too familiar.
In this edition of the Border-Gavaskar series, the Australians have been obsessed with the nature of the surface and veered off from their time-tested methods with disastrous consequences. The demon of self-doubt has been Australia’s biggest scourge. With the wily Steve Smith at the helm now, can the visitors turn the corner mentally?
The predominantly dry, black-soil pitch with a smattering of red, should encourage spin when the third Test gets underway at the Holkar Stadium here on Wednesday. Leading 2-0 in the four Test series, India will go for the kill.
The Indians left the choice of Rohit’s opening partner — either the out-of-form K.L. Rahul or the red hot Shubman Gill — up the air. The in-form Gill should play.
Not surprisingly, much focus will be on R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Ashwin’s run-up and release have rhythm, with his hip drive and the manner in which he pivots being major factors. Although a finger spinner, Ashwin employs both his wrist and fingers to create a variety of deliveries.
The one that goes through straight and the delivery that hangs in the air and then drifts away combine with deadly effect with his off-spinners. There is flight, deception and venom.
On these surfaces, Jadeja’s quicker-through-the-air variety — he uses the crease capably — is potent. Vicious turn and bounce with the arm-ball slipped in between have fetched Jadeja a whopping 17 wickets so far. Ashwin has 14.
And, India’s batting depth has provided the runs for the spin duo to attack.
For Australia, Mitchell Starc’s return is good news; left-arm seamers have traditionally troubled India. Starc will also create the rough for off-spinners Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy to exploit.
Fit again, pace-bowling all-rounder Cameron Green gives Australia the option of playing an additional bowler or a batter. Whatever be the combination, Australia needs to display resilience. It is the lack of faith in their defensive skills on these pitches that has seen the Aussies going for fatal strokes.
Unable to pick the length, their footwork has been impacted adversely. The Australians should explore the possibility of playing a lot more off the back-foot and meeting the ball late to frustrate the Indian spinners.
The way to go
The batters can crouch a little in their stance and shorten their backlift to counter the low bounce and give themselves a lot more time to negate the turning ball off their back-foot. This will open up more scoring areas too.
Playing with soft hands in defence and not going hard at the ball is the key with the close catchers smelling the bat. And, when they go forward, front-of-the-wicket drives and flicks should be employed. The sweep shot is a tactical weapon, and has to be employed judiciously.
Much depends on Smith and Marnus Labuchangne. Ashwin and Jadeja will have other ideas.
The teams (from):
India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), Shubman Gill, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, K.S. Bharat (wk), Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, Suryakumar Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishan Kishan (wk).
Australia: Steve Smith (Capt.), Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy, Matthew Kuhnemann, Scott Boland, Matt Renshaw and Lance Morris.
Umpires: Nitin Menon and Richard Kettleborough; TV umpire: Joel Wilson; Fourth umpire: J.R. Madanagopal; Match referee: Chris Broad.
Play starts at 9.30 a.m.