Match made in heaven

Nagpur, February 8

Rohit Sharma will face his biggest test as India’s red-ball captain against a determined Australian team which would be hungry for revenge when the much-awaited Border-Gavaskar series starts here tomorrow. It is a series that promises a lot of twists and turns, engrossing sub-plots and career-defining performances.

India’s head coach Rahul Dravid inspects the pitch. PTI

The back-to-back series defeats to India in their own den have hurt Australia and they certainly have revenge on their mind. It, however, will be easier said than done. Steve Smith put

it aptly, saying a series win in India will be bigger than an Ashes win.

Sharma would like to emulate his predecessor Virat Kohli in leading the team to another World Test Championship final. For that to happen, India will need a two-match victory margin. Sharma’s biggest weapon will be his quartet of spinners, out of which three are likely to play. Not to forget, his batters need to rise up to Nathan Lyon’s challenge.

Winning a series in India is like an Ashes away series (win), but even more rare. It will be a career highlight, an era-defining series if we win here. —Pat Cummins, Australia captain

Playing down pitch talks

Rival captains Sharma and Pat Cummins sought to put the focus back on cricket after a section of Australian media accused India of selectively watering the pitch.

The pitch at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium finds itself under the spotlight even before the match starts with several Australian media pointing out that the ground staff had left the area outside left-handers’ off-stump dry at both ends.

Australia’s playing XI, which Cummins would not reveal, could potentially feature five left-handed batsmen in their top-seven, but the paceman appeared unperturbed.

“That’s part of the challenge of playing away,” said Cummins, whose team just need to avoid a 0-4 whitewash to make the final of the World Test Championship in June. “Home teams want to win at home. In Australia, we’re lucky we’ve normally got pace and bounce. Home match advantage, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing. It’s another challenge and makes touring over here even harder when you know the conditions are custom-made for them.”

Meanwhile, Sharma shot down suggestions that India had rolled out a ‘doctored pitch’ for the contest.

“You just need to focus on the cricket that will be played on the next five days, and not worry too much about the pitch,” he said. “All 22 players who will be playing here are quality cricketers… You just got to come out and play good cricket to win the game, as simple as that.”

Sharma said batters from both sides would have to think on their feet to counter spin. “When the ball spins a lot, your method of scoring runs becomes very important,” explained the opener. “You’ll have to rotate strike, and see how you can score runs — sweep, reverse sweep, using your feet. That’s what we’ve told the boys — ‘find your own ways of scoring runs’. It’s going to be challenging,” he added. — Agencies

3Wins needed by India in the series to cement their spot in the World Test Championship final

42Wins at home for India over the last 10 years. They have lost only twice, to Australia in 2017 and England in 2021

3Wickets Axar Patel needs to become the fastest Indian to 50 Test wickets, alongside R Ashwin (nine Tests). He has 47 wickets in eight Tests

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