Nagpur: Cameron Green’s late bid to be fit for the first Test is all but over as the challenge confronting Australia’s batters was laid bare on Tuesday.
There were no surprises for the Australians when they laid eyes on a dry but far from dusty pitch at Nagpur’s VCA Stadium, two days before the start of the eagerly anticipated heavyweight battle for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Steve Smith and David Warner checking the pitch at Nagpur.Credit:Getty Images
Steve Smith and David Warner were on all fours inspecting the surface, but the visitors will be hoping their batters are not brought to their knees by Australia’s historical spin demons on the subcontinent.
Of most concern to Australia’s South Paw-dominated batting are the barer patches on a fullish length just outside off stump to the left-hander that will give India’s spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel a target to prey on Warner, Usman Khawaja and co. One player wryly suggested there would be more green if it were Bangladesh playing this week.
As temperatures hit the 30s in mid-morning, the pitch was under covers though it was to be seen if curators would water the track in the afternoon or let Mother Nature work its wares to cultivate India’s preferred spin-friendly conditions.
“Pretty dry, particularly one end that I think will take a bit of spin, particularly to left-arm spinners spinning it back to our left-handers, there’s a section that’s dry,” Australia vice-captain Smith said.
“I can’t get a good gauge on it. I don’t think there’ll be a heap of bounce in the wicket. For the seamers it will be quite skiddy and maybe a bit of up-and-down movement as the game goes on. The cracks feel quite loose.”
Green was limited to bowling just a few light overs on a side pitch on the square and did not bat, in the clearest indication yet he will miss the start of the series. With back-to-back Tests, it would not be a surprise if he is not seen until the second half of the campaign.
“I don’t think he’s even faced fast bowlers yet, I dare say he won’t be playing,” Smith said. “Unless he pulls up really well … it’s unlikely.”
Matthew Renshaw, the incumbent, is in the box seat to hold No. 6 ahead of Peter Handscomb, having been paired with No. 5 Travis Head in centre-wicket match practice in Bangalore last week. Both men took part in close-catching drills for about an hour before hitting the nets.
Green’s likely absence has several flow-on effects for selectors. Should Renshaw play, as expected, it would leave Australia with five left-handers in the top seven. It also leaves skipper Pat Cummins without a third seamer in his attack.
Ashton Agar is considered favourite for the fourth bowling slot despite an underwhelming return to the baggy green in Sydney. Uncapped off-spinner Todd Murphy has the superior recent first-class record, but the selection panel has tended to lean towards giving players one more chance.
There is much intrigue over in India over the pitches for the four Tests. One media report over the weekend quoted an anonymous source saying curators had been advised by the BCCI to produce pitches for “good Test cricket” over five days.
Another report on Tuesday quoted a source in the India team saying they wanted to “maximise our advantage and prepare turners”, speculating on a four-pronged spin attack instead of three.
In the last first-class game played here, three weeks ago, one side was rolled for 54 chasing 73, with a left-arm orthodox spinner taking nine wickets in the final innings.
The pitches were a source of much controversy six years ago after two below-par tracks were unveiled for the first two Tests.
India’s insistence on extremely spin-friendly conditions backfired in Pune when Steve O’Keefe bamboozled the hosts with match figures of 12-70 in a famous victory on a rank turner rated “poor” by the International Cricket Council.
After a “below-average” pitch in Bengaluru, which provided variable bounce, the visitors were highly dubious of the track resembling rolled mud for the third Test, believing it to be tailor-made to blunt Australia’s quicks and dull Nathan Lyon’s effect.
On match eve, one senior player at the time labelled the surface as the most “ridiculous” deck he had seen, his faith undoubtedly not helped by local authorities attempting in vain to ban players from taking pictures and limiting pitch inspections to the captain and coach.
The game, though, went the distance and Smith acknowledged it had played well despite appearances.
Nagpur was slapped with a rating of “poor” in 2015 after a three-day Test where South Africa were bundled out for 79 in the first innings and spin claimed 33 of the 40 wickets.
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