Special K: the teams’ batting hopes rest on Kohli and Khawaja
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Will India be a one-man band again? Will Australia’s bowling attack see them home? Ian Chappell and Sanjay Manjrekar look ahead to the Australia-India Tests
November 29, 2018
We’re coming up to possibly the most anticipated series of 2018: the four Test matches between Australia and India, at the tail-end of a year that has not been short on incident for either side. Ian Chappell and Sanjay Manjrekar look ahead to the action in a conversation moderated by Raunak Kapoor.
Raunak Kapoor, ESPNcricinfo presenter: What are you most looking forward to from this series – from a cricketing point of view?
Ian Chappell, former Australia captain; commentator: Despite Australia’s struggles, if they’ve got everyone fit, they’ve got a very good attack, and I’m particularly looking forward to the competition between Australia’s pace bowlers and Virat Kohli. That should be a great contest. Last time he was here, Kohli played really well.
The other thing that I think will have a big effect on the series: I was really impressed with how the Indian fast bowlers bowled in England. They got the ball to move around. I’m not sure they will get the same kind of assistance in Australian conditions, so I’m interested to see how they bowl, and I think those two things could tell a big story in the series.
Sanjay Manjrekar, former India batsman; commentator: Best chance for India to put up a fight in Australia. Unbelievable that India have never won a series in Australia. The first tour was in 1947 and they have never won, so that is something they must look to address for a nation that has got so much going for them. It is the most popular sport, their cricket board is the richest, they have got the support staff they wanted, but still the overseas issue continues to haunt India. It is embarrassing for India to have this kind of record. Australia are a weakened team, but like before the England tour, I am a little worried about the Indian batting.
Kapoor: I am curious about what you make of all this talk around the Indian team, Chappelli. Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri have talked about it being the best Indian team, despite not having won in England and South Africa earlier this year.
“The Australian attack is proven under Australian conditions and the Indian attack is not proven under Australian conditions. So it is pretty flimsy evidence but I am going to pick Australia”
Chappell: I think it is one of the better teams to come from India, and certainly, as far as the fast bowlers are concerned, they are better suited to Australian conditions than any other pace-bowling attack I have seen come from India. But while things look good on paper for India, that has got to be translated into form on the field.
Kapoor: Sanjay, is this the best bowling attack India have taken to Australia, all things considered?
Manjrekar: Yes, definitely, and I wish this team combined India’s batting of the early 2000s with this bowling attack. You would have seen India beat Australia.
Unfortunately, while the bowling has gotten strong, the batting has not quite measured up. There is a glimmer of hope in Prithvi Shaw. I was excited watching him in the home series against West Indies. But if you look at the batting line-up, apart from Kohli, nobody is at the top of their game. The batting graph of all these batsmen was on a dip in England and that is what hurt India the most. So yes, the best bowling attack but not the best team to go to Australia, purely because of the batting.
Kapoor: Looking at the bowling first – thoughts on whether Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be effective?
Chappell: Perhaps, under certain circumstances, he could be useful in Australia. If a Test was being played at the WACA in Perth, he would be the into-the-wind specialist, but because they have now moved to the new stadium and it is encircled by large stands, you mightn’t have the same effect of the Fremantle Doctor coming in, and that’s what assisted the swing bowlers and made it almost mandatory that you had to have a swing bowler to come into the wind. So without knowing how the new stadium will play, that’s one game where you could consider Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Kohli: “We have the quality to win in Australia”
Kapoor: In South Africa, Michael Holding said that he doesn’t care what the pitch looks like, Bhuvneshwar has to be in his Test XI, no matter what. In the absence of Hardik Pandya, do you look at him as not just a bowler but someone who adds balance to the team?
Manjrekar: Bhuvneshwar would not be in my XI for the first Test, purely because he would find it difficult to dislodge the three seamers who are likely to play in the first Test on current form, fitness, everything.
Ishant Sharma was very consistent in England, so he is your perfect third seam option. Jasprit Bumrah is the leader of the attack. Mohammed Shami was pretty impressive in England, so Bhuvneshwar would find it difficult to dislodge these three.
Maybe in the second Test, at Perth, he might have an opportunity, but the Bhuvneshwar Kumar we saw in South Africa and the one we are seeing now, post-injury, he is not the same bowler. I would be very surprised if he is picked for the first Test. And after that it depends on the performance of the other three seamers.
Kapoor: Are you not even a little bit tempted to pick Bhuvneshwar for his batting?
Manjrekar: If you have Rishabh Pant batting at No. 7 and you have six pure batsmen, you don’t need to pick a bowler because he bats a bit.
Kapoor: Chappelli, the excitement seems to be around Bumrah because of the x-factor, the slightly different angle he brings. You saw a different sort of bite in the Indian bowling when Bumrah entered midway in the England series, though one concern was that a bit of fatigue set in by the time of the last Test. He bowled around 130 overs in that series.
“The Bhuvneshwar Kumar we saw in South Africa and the one we are seeing now, post-injury, is not the same bowler. I would be very surprised if he is picked for the first Test”
Chappell: It’s pleasing to know that India are getting into the workload and contentious selections area. Without knowing what that situation is, I would have Bumrah in my side for the first Test in Adelaide. If it was a day-night game, I would have considered Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but not in a day game. But I would consider Bumrah because he would get very good bounce in Australia and he is the sort of bowler who seems to hurry the batsmen quite a bit.
Kapoor: There are the same questions around R Ashwin as there were before England. He started the series well but was perhaps arguably one of the biggest disappointments with the ball as it went on. Does he merit a place as the first spinner?
Manjrekar: I’ll quickly make a point on Bumrah. In this Indian pace unit he’s the leader and also the most versatile. It’s amazing how quickly he can adjust to pitch conditions and general conditions in different countries.
Ashwin, if they look at the pitch and think it is a pitch for five days, then I think Ashwin is the one you pick. But if there are signs that the pitch can become a real turner, then maybe [Ravindra] Jadeja might come into the equation. If it’s a good pitch in Adelaide, Ashwin will be the first-choice spinner for me.
Kapoor: If you add Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to the Australia bowling line-up that played in the UAE, to Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, it should be a bowling line-up that keeps Australia more than competitive.
Chappell: Yeah, that is Australia’s big hope in the series. There are a lot of queries about the batting line-up, but as long as that attack is fit and in form, they are going to restrict India. The big question is whether they can keep Virat Kohli in check. If they can do that, then they will restrict India, and then obviously the Australian batsmen don’t have to make as many runs.
Manjrekar: What will make this series interesting is that there is quality in the Australian bowling but not so much in the batting – just like for India.
Not quite the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but no slouches either
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I expect the pitches to be easier to tackle for the Indian batsmen after their experiences in South Africa and England. Here there is a likelihood that there will be another batsman joining Virat Kohli, and India are likely to put more runs on the board, like they did last time, when Ajinkya Rahane and M Vijay were also getting runs. That has not happened on the last two overseas tours, and I expect that to happen with people like Shaw, [Cheteshwar] Pujara, and Vijay if he gets going. The batting vulnerabilities of both teams are going to make the series very interesting.
Kapoor: You’d say that if Australia can score 350-400 regularly, they will end up testing India. Do Australia have the batting to do that? Do Usman Khawaja or Aaron Finch have it in them to lead a batting line-up?
Chappell: Finch is still very much an unknown quantity at Test level. Khawaja is now, without Warner and Smith, the best player in Australia. It is a toss-up between him and Shaun Marsh, but you are talking potential here, and this is the problem Australia have got.
I think you have to be a supreme optimist to think about Australia getting 350-400 runs regularly in the Test series. If they can get 350 occasionally, it will surprise a lot of people, me being one of them.
Khawaja is a good player, but like most batsmen he is vulnerable if you bowl in the right spot, around the off stump. Again it will come down to how good the Indian quickies bowl under Australian conditions. If they do bowl well, they can keep Khawaja under control, and if they can do that, Australia will be stretched for runs.
“Ajinkya Rahane is clearly not the player he was a couple of years back, and I sense, just listening to his comments and things like that, that he hasn’t accepted that something has gone wrong with his batting”
And the other thing is Shaun Marsh, who is starting to find some form, is the sort of player with whom you get a lot of peaks and troughs. That tells me he loses confidence very quickly, but I think his last few innings, in Shield cricket and with the ODI side, will get his confidence back. Australia are going to be heavily dependent on those two left-handers.
Kapoor: Popular opinion seems to be that it was India’s batting that let them down in South Africa and England. They got 60 wickets in South Africa. They got ten wickets each in seven out of nine innings in England. So the question is whether the Indian batting, barring Kohli, has deteriorated, or should we just say that the conditions in South Africa were extreme, and that perhaps on flatter wickets in Australia, we might see more of their best?
Manjrekar: Yeah, I think you might see Indian batsmen getting more runs in Australia because the ball will have a tendency to come in straighter lines than it did in South Africa and England. But Kohli’s graph has skyrocketed at the same time as the others have gone down as players, and that’s not because of the conditions.
Vijay did not look the same player, temperamentally, in South Africa and England. [KL] Rahul is an enigma for me. He is a high-quality batsman, very organised, but I’ve never seen someone lose their sense of timing like he did. It was a surprise that he struggled in England. Even on Indian batting pitches, he hasn’t quite got his timing right. So the Rahul that goes to Australia this time isn’t as good a player, temperamentally and technically.
Pujara is not the same player he was three years ago, but the mental toughness hasn’t changed, so he will get the hard runs, like he did in England.
Ajinkya Rahane is clearly not the player he was a couple of years back, and I sense, just listening to his comments and things like that, that he hasn’t accepted that something has gone wrong with his batting. So I see him not really changing as a batsman, and making the same kind of mistakes.
Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
That is why I want Rohit Sharma to be in this playing XI, batting at No. 6, because his form has been good, and Adelaide is the place where you take this gamble. Giving him another opportunity in a Test match is a big gamble, but him batting down at No. 6, if he has to bat with tailenders, like [Jos] Buttler has been doing for England, then it is an exciting thought. If he gets some form, he could be the game changer in a Test match. So I would play Rohit Sharma at No. 6.
Kapoor: The problems that you mentioned, of players like Rahul or Rahane, how much of it do you think is down to lack of security? Other than Kohli, everyone has been given indications that they are not a sure shot in the XI every single time. Does that influence how you end up approaching a game?
Manjrekar: It may have contributed to the way they were batting currently and how they lost form. But it cannot be an excuse, because I don’t think anyone was given a really unfair deal.
Rahane should have played in the first Test in South Africa but the Rahane we saw prior to that series, in multiple innings, did not quite look in form. So there was a lot of pre-emptive selection that happened, which Kohli has learned to be patient about. You are seeing signs of him changing as a selector-captain. That may have contributed [to the poor form], but as I said, it cannot be used as an excuse. But yes, in England we heard some grumbling from the Indian camp about batsmen who were short of runs, short of confidence, giving that as a reason.
Kapoor: Virat Kohli in supreme, sublime form, is levels above everybody else. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that you have got one guy batting so far ahead of everyone else?
“Shaun Marsh, who is starting to find some form, is the sort of player with whom you get a lot of peaks and troughs. That tells me he loses confidence very quickly”
Chappell: You need to have a few guys in form throughout the series. You can’t be relying on one bloke, and particularly when Australia have got such a good attack. If they feel like it’s Kohli that they have got to get and they can deal fairly comfortably with the rest, then they can really concentrate on Kohli and work really hard on him, and that would hurt Kohli and India. So you definitely need more than just one guy in form.
I am glad they picked Rohit Sharma in the squad because I think he has the weaponry to handle the Australian conditions better than anyone, except Kohli, in the Indian line-up. He really has not proved himself at the Test match level, but I’d go with Sanjay and say that he is a gamble worth taking, because he plays the horizontal bat shots so well.
The one guy India are really going to miss in Australia, to me, is Hardik Pandya, because he was the balance to the team. If you had Pandya there under Australian conditions, he could perform as your third seamer and you could play two spinners in places like Adelaide and Sydney, where I think it is very handy to have five bowlers. So he will be sadly missed.
I could not believe India left Pujara out of that first Test in England. I thought it was a big mistake. I have got a lot of time for him. He is one who does need to play well in Australia.
The openers – it is going to be hard work for them because the Australian pace attack is a really good one. But you certainly need one of the openers to fire. Pujara and Kohli. Kohli you probably expect would succeed. Then you probably need one another. We were talking about Australia getting 350-400. India also need to be looking at that sort of target. So both batting line-ups have got some big queries against their name.
Marsh: how good a Test batsman is he?
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Manjrekar: Actually when I am looking at the possible combinations for the first Test, I am glad Hardik Pandya is not in the equation, because then you can have a pure batsman like Rohit Sharma batting at No. 6. Pandya is neither this nor that at the moment. His batting showed so much promise in South Africa but after that it has just gone to pieces in Test match cricket. So I am actually glad he is not in consideration because the playing XI for the first Test match, to my eyes, looks a lot more balanced and promising.
Kapoor:Pandya’s role did seem to be one that would add balance, but it looked like India didn’t trust him to be the third seamer and he was not getting runs consistently enough to stake a claim as a batting allrounder.
Chappell: Yeah, but he was not the only batsman who was struggling. I thought there were a couple of times in England where he played quite well. In one of those innings he virtually threw it away because he was left with the last couple of batsmen and he had to try getting runs as quickly as possible. I was not quite so disappointed with his batting as perhaps some of the Indians were, because a lot of Pandya failing was down to the guys above him not doing so well. I really do think he will be missed. He has got something about him that would suit bowling in Australia.
Kapoor: Let’s try and have you guys pick your XIs for the first Test, assuming a typical Adelaide track. Sanjay, you have already hinted at the direction you are going in. You don’t find a place for Bhuvneshwar. You would like to strengthen the batting, and you have already said that you would pick Rohit Sharma as your extra batsman, ahead of Hanuma Vihari, who did get a half-century overseas the last time he was played as the extra batsman.
Manjrekar: There are a lot of people who believe very strongly in protocol, and leaving Hanuma Vihari out of my playing XI is something these people will find strange, because this a guy who played one Test match in England and got a fifty. But you cannot make selections thinking that this is the guy who played the last Test match, so he should get preference for the next Test match, even if there is another exciting option. That is a preamble to my playing XI.
Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Chappell: I am not overly confident about this line-up’s ability to get enough runs, but I think it is not the time to be looking for someone new. Because you have lost your two best batsmen, you have to rely on some blokes who have played Test cricket and have had a bit of success.
Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
I have got some time for [Matt] Renshaw. [Peter] Handscomb, I am not convinced he can make runs against good bowling with the set-up and technique he has got, but he has got a bit of Shield form behind him so I am going for him. Mitch Marsh, he has not really done enough.
Manjrekar: Chappelli, can I butt in here? I have just not understood why there is so much value attached to Mitchell Marsh the player in Test match cricket. Because when you look at his batting, his numbers are not flattering, and he is not a bowler in Test matches who is going to scare any of the Indian batsmen.
Chappell: Well, he is a handy bowler under Australian conditions, but what it is really saying to you, Sanjay, is that there is not much around in Australian cricket at the moment, in batting. And Mitch Marsh did have quite a good series when he came into the side in the Ashes. So I think he is a better batsman under Australian conditions than he is probably anywhere else.
Kapoor: To come back to your middle order, Chappelli – would you not want to give an extended run to Travis Head, who did have one good innings in saving the Test in the UAE?
Chappell: That would give you a middle order of Shaun Marsh, Khawaja and Head. Three left-handers in a row. Khawaja and Shaun Marsh are way better than Head, and I am not convinced he is a better player than Handscomb either. I need a lot of convincing with Travis Head and consequently have not got him in my team. He is probably very fortunate that I am not a selector.
Kapoor: The last few series between these sides, there has been some ugly behaviour. Australia are clearly wanting to change, Chappelli – everything that has gone down with the cultural review and whatnot. Do you think they can maintain this new approach when it actually gets hot in the middle? An opportunity for both these teams to start afresh and make a clean break from all the boorishness?
Chappell: Referring to Australia’s behaviour, the big test is going to come when they play India, because it is going to be very competitive, and things are likely to happen in the heat of battle that is when things are likely to happen. But the intentions are good at the moment and hopefully those intentions turn into good behaviour on the field.
Kapoor: What kind of reception are you anticipating for the Australian side? It is the first time they will come out in Test cricket after what happened at Newlands, and everything that has gone on in the boardroom.
Chappell: Well, there won’t be any problem with the reception. They will be well received. In other words, they won’t be booed or anything like that because the three players who were suspended won’t be there.
“Two teams high on quality when it comes to bowling, but with batting fragility. I see an improved performance from India from what we saw in England and South Africa”
Kapoor: Sanjay, do you think India might want to capitalise on any mental fragility they might sense in this Australian side? Would you like to see better behaviour from Virat Kohli and Co?
Manjrekar: I think there will be better behaviour from Virat Kohli and Co. And when we say Virat Kohli and Co, we should also include Ravi Shastri, because when that partnership began, that was their big play of trying to be aggressive while touring Australia. Last time was one of their first stints together and I thought they took it a bit too far. That team was just being aggressive externally and not putting in the performances.
I don’t see that happening now. Kohli is a few years older, they have both been in the job for a while. I don’t see India going over the top with their behaviour. In the rest of the team you have people [unlike Kohli] – like Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul. So I don’t think India will be going over the top.
I don’t expect the behaviour to be more in the spotlight than the cricket. But one of the things that I am eagerly looking forward to is to see this fascinating aspect of Australian cricket called elite honesty. That is something I am going to keep my eyes open for.
Kapoor: Finally, predictions for the series, gentlemen.
Manjrekar: Very difficult to predict. Two teams high on quality when it comes to bowling, but with batting fragility. I see an improved performance from India from what we saw in England and South Africa, and I also want to say that the scoreline in those series was not reflective of how India played. It was a lot closer than the scoreline suggested. I see an improved result from India in Australia.
Chappell: I am going to pick Australia, but don’t ask me why I am picking them. I think the only reasonable reason I can give is that I was disappointed the way India played in England and I thought they should have won that series.
Certainly, on talent, they should beat this Australian side, but there might just be something missing. The other thing is the Australian attack. It is a very good one. It is proven under Australian conditions and the Indian attack is not proven under Australian conditions. So it is pretty flimsy evidence but I am going to pick Australia.
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