India's cricket team can take an unassailable 2-0 series lead in the Test match against Australia, which begins today in Perth. First, however, they must negotiate a wicket which promises to emulate the bounce and pace of the old WACA ground.
India has hung onto the number one spot in test cricket in 2018 despite a 4-1 away series loss to England. Australia, meanwhile, have slumped to fifth in the Test rankings.
Despite this, Australia go into the second Test at Perth as favourites with the bookmakers, largely due to the traditional struggles touring sides have with conditions in Perth. While the old WACA ground which bedevilled international teams with its steepling bounce and lightning pace is no longer a Test venue, it is believed the new Perth Stadium will be similarly challenging.
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 13, 2018
Can Mitchell Starc bounce back and exploit the conditions in Perth?
Indian captain Virat Kohli insisted the anticipated fast bowler friendly pitch holds no fear for India. “We definitely get more excited than nervous looking at lively pitches,” he said. “We understand that we have a bowling attack that can bowl out the opposition now.”
Kohli also felt his team was buoyed by the win in Adelaide. “We are definitely confident of the percentage of chances we have and we want to build on that,” he told reporters.
“Obviously Australia is going to be a strong team in their home conditions and on a wicket like Perth, which probably offers you more than most other pitches in Australia. But we have an equal chance.”
Former English Captain Michael Vaughan said any attempt to outmanoeuvre India with a green-tinged wicket could backfire.
“(Australia) clearly need a pitch they feel they can get at the Indian batsmen,” Vaughan said.
“But from seeing the Indian attack at Adelaide Oval, I would think Bumrah, Shami and Sharma will be going to bed tonight thinking, ‘thank you, we’ll out bowl them on this one’.”
To make the most of the pace-friendly deck, Australia will need to lift from Adelaide, where spearhead Mitchell Starc took five wickets for the match but looked some distance below his game-changing best. Earlier this week, Shane Warne called his efforts in the second innings “atrocious” and “the worst I’ve ever seen Starc with the second new ball”.
Australian Captain Tim Paine defended his new ball bowler and said some of the scrutiny on Starc had “been pretty unfair”.
“I thought barring two or three overs where he got his radar a little bit wrong I thought he bowled really well,” Paine said.
“He’s best and his worst are getting closer together and I think we’re getting really close to his best again.
“He swung the ball in Adelaide which he didn’t do in the UAE, I think he’ll swing it out there (at Perth Stadium), the conditions are going to suit him down to the ground.”
— CricketNDTV (@CricketNDTV) December 13, 2018
India go into the match without 64-Test veteran Ravi Ashwin, but Kohli is due a big innings
India is also weakened by the injury-enforced absence of masterful off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and batsman Rohit Sharma. Australia will field an unchanged team after vice-captain Mitch Marsh was again confined to twelfth man duties.
Another subplot is Virat Kohli’s quest to retain his slender lead atop the Test cricket batting rankings. He is just seven points ahead of New Zealander Kane Williamson after an unusually subdued performance at Adelaide, where he made 3 and 34 and generally didn’t look his usual imperious self.
Stoic Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara also entered the top five in the batting rankings after compiling a patient 123 and 71 in India’s Adelaide win.
Remarkably, suspended Australian batsman Steve Smith retains third place on the list despite having been banned since March for his role in the infamous ball-tampering episode in South Africa.
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