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India vs Australia: Vihari vs Rohit for Final Batting Spot as Fierce Rivals Prepare for Opening Skirmish

Karthik Lakshmanan |December 6, 2018, 1:58 AM IST
India vs Australia: Vihari vs Rohit for Final Batting Spot as Fierce Rivals Prepare for Opening Skirmish

If you've been living under a rock and just about tuned in to the cricket in Australia over the last week or so, you can be forgiven for thinking Australia are going to face 11 Virat Kohlis over four Tests.

Kohli is just everywhere. Fox Cricket, the broadcasters of the Border-Gavaskar Test series in Australia, ran a promo exclusively focusing on 'King' Kohli in Australia.

The king is coming,' it said. 'The first Indian captain to win a Test series in Australia?,' it wondered.

Kohli's face is splashed across all newspapers. Even a video of Kohli batting in the nets has gone viral on social media.

Former Australian pacers like Jason Gillespie and Ryan Harris have words of advice on how to get Kohli out. Ricky Ponting - a big bully with the bat in his playing days - says Kohli shouldn't be allowed to bully Australia in their own backyard. Such is the aura around the India captain as the sides get set to clash on Thursday (December 6) in Adelaide.

Even as the crescendo has built, India have gone about their business as calmly as is possible. A 12-man squad was named for the clash, with a toss-up between Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari for the final batting spot. India have given up on the five-bowler theory for this game, and chosen just four frontline options in Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin as the lone spinner, a decision clearly premised on the surfeit of left-handers in the Australian line-up.

In normal circumstances, the very same Australian media would be out targeting Kohli & co, trying to play mind games against the visitors. If not for the events in South Africa earlier this year, the build-up could have been a lot different. It would have been about Kohli v Steve Smith, like it was in 2014 and even in 2017 in India. Kohli had a tremendous tour last time around scoring four centuries, but it was Smith's runs that clinched the series for Australia. Smith even led Australia to a win in Pune with a century.

Without Smith, and David Warner, Australian cricket finds itself in such a situation that there are doubts over who the favourites are ahead of the series. Hardly has a visiting team started favourites ahead of a series in Australia, across any format. Even if some don't consider India as the favourites, there's no doubt that they start on par with the hosts. This, despite India losing in England and South Africa over the last year, in itself is extraordinary.

The home team has announced their playing XI for the clash, dropping one of their vice-captains in Mitchell Marsh for Peter Handscomb, recalled for the first time since the tour of South Africa in March and April.

Despite scoring a century for Sheffield Shield side Western Australia in the lead-up, Marsh pays the price for a poor tour of the United Arab Emirates where he managed 30 runs from four innings with the bat against Pakistan and two wickets at the cost of almost 100 runs with the ball.

"Mitch Marsh probably hasn't been as consistent as he would like and we would like," captain Tim Paine said. "We know he’s good enough to be a genuine all-rounder at test level. The quicks are going to have a bowl a bit more and we have full faith that Nathan Lyon can do the job."

Australia haven't won a series in any format since the sandpaper-gate, barring the one-off T20I against UAE. Worse, they aren’t sure about their brand of cricket. Michael Clarke reckons they won’t win s**t without their aggression. Justin Langer and Tim Paine have stood firm by their ‘elite’ values.

Given both sides have strong bowling attacks, the series could well be decided by how the batsmen perform. India’s batting let them down against England, where they lost 1-4. Barring Kohli, and to some extent Cheteshwar Pujara, none of the other batsmen can claim to be in form. M Vijay will be under pressure making a comeback. KL Rahul will be under pressure of poor form.

Ajinkya Rahane will have to step up and be the glue in the middle order, like he did wonderfully in the last tour down under. The series will also show if Rishabh Pant can step up to the big level, and if Rohit Sharma can revive his Test career. Firstly, though, it remains to be seen if he gets into the side ahead of Hanuma Vihari.

Meanwhile, Australia have struggled to fill in for Smith and Warner. They’ve got new faces at the top with uncapped Marcus Harris, and the recently Test capped Aaron Finch. Handscomb is making a comeback and Travis Head is yet to play a Test at home.

Much of the batting responsibility, thus, lies on Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, along with captain Paine. If they can do just about enough to give their bowlers a chance, they might change the pre-series perceptions.

The last Test series between the two sides – in India in 2017 - was acrimonious and yet competitive with India winning 2-1. How this one pans out, on both counts, will be interesting to watch.

India XII: Virat Kohli (C), A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, M Vijay, C Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, R Pant (WK), R Ashwin, M Shami, I Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah

Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

((With Agency Inputs))

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2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
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