PREVIEW: Australia v/s India, 1st Test, Adelaide

In a rescheduled first test of the 2014-15 Australia-India series at Adelaide, two teams will take the field in the aftermath of perhaps the greatest modern tragedy the game has seen. Cricket, the game that took away 25-year old Phil Hughes, will act as a healer now. Clarke’s men have had 4 days of practice, and have visibly been struggling, but now have a final XI for Tuesday. A boost will be the return of their leader and captain, who has carried himself with great grace and inspiration over the last week. Ironically, if not for the incident, Clarke would have missed the first Brisbane test and Hughes would have filled in for him. As it turns out, Australia have their first-choice team playing now.

Meanwhile, India will be called Kohli’s men for this first test at Adelaide, with MS Dhoni failing to recover in time. The series hasn’t started yet, but injuries have already begun to plague a side that has lost pretty much every series away as World Champions.

The last time India came here, they were slaughtered 0-4, in what became Kohli’s call to greatness after inspiring innings at Perth and Adelaide.

AUSTRALIA
The test team is fresh off a disappointing whitewash (0-2) in UAE against a rampaging Pakistan side. However, the Kiwis who visited next held the Pakistanis to 1-1. Australians have long struggled in sub-continental conditions, but now they’re back to where they belong: Home. All eyes will be on them, as they walk out in shirts emblazoned with Hughes’ test number 408, with black armbands, and with a 13th man on the team sheet: Phil Hughes. Touching in every way, the Adelaide test will begin with plenty of tributes to Hughes before the first ball is bowled. Watson has admittedly been struggling against the short ball in the nets, while Warner has been seen in tears while batting. Life will have to go on, in testing conditions, at the Adelaide Oval on Tuesday. They will have, at the back of their minds, the 0-4 thrashing they suffered in India last year.

Almost the same team will take the field: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, M. Marsh, Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon.

Watson at 3 is their only issue, because Steve Smith is the batsman in form, and though he can bat at any position, he revels at 3 too. But using Smith as insurance in the middle order makes sense too, and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh will give them the extra batting option too. Shaun Marsh, who was called up in Clarke’s absence, has been sent back, with Josh Hazelwood as the 12th man. The team looks strong on paper. However, their inner emotions cannot be captured on paper. First and foremost, it will be a battle against themselves.

INDIA
India’s best all-rounder Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, who was India’s top bowler and very useful batsman in England, will not play the first two tests. His ankle injury means that Ishant will combine with Aaron and Shami to lead the pace attack. Yadav will be the 12th man, while Aaron will be the trump card. India will definitely play the extra batsman, which means that in-form Rohit Sharma will bat at 6 to shepherd the lower-middle order, while either Ashwin or Jadeja will fill the lone spinner’s spot. My money is on Jadeja, whose left-arm spin could cause a few problems for Clarke. His batting needs application, but Saha as the keeper at 7 means that India will go in with almost 8 batsmen. Dhoni will be fit for the next test, and Kohli will lead the test team for the first time. All eyes will be on him, because this is arguably the near future of a young squad that will be on tour to Australia for the first time without the ‘big 4’, and even without Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer, Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh. Rohit will need to apply himself carefully at 6, and there is no room for error, especially after his twin failures in England after looking good for a while.

Probable First XI: Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Rohit, Saha, Jadeja, Ishant, Shami, Aaron. 

Kohli will not be afraid to shuffle up the order if the need arises. This will be an exciting first test, with not one senior player in the squad (except Ishant) Down Under.

Prediction:
Australia are most dangerous when cornered. India could struggle with their inexperience, and will have to win the sessions in order to be competitive. A lot will depend on Kohli’s aggression at the top. There are barely draws when these two teams play, which could mean that Australia might take the lead first off.

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