Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23: Fit-again Cameron Green will look to balance and lift a bruised Australia. Travis Head or Matthew Renshaw likely to open in David Warner's absence.
Before getting on the plane for India to participate in Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) 2022-23, Australia’s Test captain Pat Cummins had said that this Test series in India and the upcoming Ashes 2023 in the middle of the year are going to be the first real ‘acid test’ of his captaincy.
But inside just six days on the field during the first two Tests in Nagpur and Delhi, Australia lost both the games against India in Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23.
Amidst all the expectations, captain Cummins realised the challenge of touring India
There were huge expectations from this Australia side; especially with what they have done over the last couple of summers at home. They had also won a historic Test series in Pakistan by 1-0, their first Test series win in Pakistan after 24 years, besides drawing the Test series with Sri Lanka in the two-match Test series. Having said all that, perhaps like all the past Australia teams, they realised that the challenge of touring India is as tough as it is touted to be.
Australia are up against a unit that has lost only 2 Tests in the last 10 years at home, winning a humongous 36 Tests in that period. Perhaps, it’s like the past India sides who used to tour Australia back in the days with a hope of winning at least one game like what they did in 2003-04 or 2007-08.
Even in the recent past in India, there have been instances when a team after winning the first Test have been rolled over at the end of the series - whether in the 2016-17 four-match Test series against Australia, where the visitors after winning the first encounter in Pune were absolutely demolished to lose the series by a margin of 2-1, or in 2020-21 during the four-match Test series, England too after winning the first assignment in Chennai returned home with a series loss by a 3-1 margin.
Lack of lower order runs and inability to clean up the tail have been vital issues
Both the Test matches at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (VCA) in Nagpur and Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi witnessed Australia losing the Tests by huge margins, but both losses have been because of similar woes in their planning.
Batting first in the first Test, Australia were in a reasonable position at 84/2 in the middle session of the first day and looked to post a good total on the board but suddenly after losing Marnus Labuschagne on 49, they collapsed like a pack of cards to end their first innings on just 177, losing their last eight wickets for just 93 runs. But some good spin bowling brought them back in the game having taken the first five India wickets for just 168 runs but then the major difference between the two sides surfaced.
Because of the two partnerships in the lower order for India - first the 61-run stand for the sixth wicket between Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, before the latter partnering Axar Patel for a 88-run stand for the eight wicket - propelled the home side to 400 at the end of their first innings as they managed 232 runs for their last five wickets.
If that wasn’t enough toughness, the whole Australia side was packed up inside one session for just 91 runs in their second innings, losing the game by an innings and 132 runs.
However, the story of the second Test in Delhi was a little different; Australia managed to score 263 in the first innings, before finding India at 139/7. But again the 114-run stand for the eighth wicket between Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel took India to 262.
Australia just like their first innings, batted with aggression to be on 61/1 at the end of the second day’s play and the smile of both the overnight batters were indicating the same. But what happened on the very next day again proved India’s dominance on home soil. From 65/1, the whole side was blown away for just 113, losing 9/48 in one and a half hour as India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
All these things have brought a sense of doom and gloom for the visitors as they again failed to win a Test series in India since 2004-05.
Let’s take a look at couple of things Australia could do during the last two Test matches of the series.
Travis Head-Usman Khawaja look to be a great opening pair for Australia
Travis Head, in spite of scoring heavily during the recent Australia summer with 312 runs at an average of 156 and strike rate of 91.49 against West Indies in the two-match Test series and 213 runs in three games at an average of 53.25 and strike rate of 100.94 against South Africa, was dropped from the first Test in Nagpur.
Head didn’t score too many runs in the first innings of the second Delhi Test but his 12 in 30 balls with the help of one boundary and maximum displayed so much of his aggressive nature. With David Warner being ruled out of the middle of the Test match due to an injury, Head was promoted to the opening slot with Usman Khawaja during the second innings and he smashed 43 runs in just 46 balls with the help of six boundaries and one six.
The way he used his feet with zero fear against the spinners was really exciting to watch. Even on the start of the third day’s play, he began with a beautiful boundary, driven through covers against Ravichandran Ashwin. With David Warner being ruled out of the series, Head could be a valuable member at the opening position for Australia.
The visiting side had another opener in the side - Matthew Renshaw who so far could face only 16 deliveries for his four runs in three innings as he seemed to have no answer against India’s spin attack. And to clear the cloud, Renshaw wasn’t in the plan for Australia for a long time making a comeback in the Test side after almost six years.
Hence, this opening duo of Travis Head and Usman Khawaja could prove to be a real bonus for Australia where the former can look to attack the India bowlers while the latter could play his normal game, biding his time in the middle.
The inclusion of fit-again Cameron Green could balance Australia’s XI
The exclusion of new sensational Australia all-rounder, Cameron Green who was ruled out of the first couple of Tests due to a finger injury, probably broke the balance of the side for which the team management was forced to play an extra batter. But the positive news from the camp is that the lanky fast bowling all-rounder is set to return in red-ball cricket in the third Test match in Indore.
With the addition of Green in the team, Australia will have the cushion of two pace bowling options besides playing three spinners. And with his batting, that department too won’t get weakened.
Mitchell Starc too can make a comeback after injury in the Test side which will provide Australia an option of left-arm pacer; that move, in a way, will create a few roughs on which their ace spinner Nathan Lyon can work. The only bad news is that Pat Cummins who retuned back home at the end of the second Test, will miss the third Test due to his mother’s illness; in his absence Steve Smith will lead the team in Indore.
Australia’s Test squad for the third and fourth Test
Usman Khawaja, Matt Renshaw, Steve Smith (captain for the third Test), Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Peter Handscomb, Scott Boland, Pat Cummins (only 4th Test), Nathan Lyon, Matthew Kuhnemann, Mitchell Starc, Todd Murphy, Lance Morris, Mitchell Swepson
The third Test of the series will be played from March 1-5 at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore, while the last Test of the four-match Test series will be played from March 9-13 at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.