Face Test with Australian Cricket’s Toughest Challenge in the Midst of Indian Gaming

The field preparation footage that raises eyebrows for the series opening between India and Australia was probably enough to startle visitors.

The ground staff at Nagpur’s VCA Stadium, in what could be called a game man by the hosts, or a “field doctor” by others, were making the surface available to help India gain an edge ahead of the first Test, which began on Thursday.

Already facing the toughest challenge in cricket with India not losing a home Test series in a decade, Australia’s task looks even more daunting on a surface that is expected to turn heavily.

However, this Australian team, increasingly shaped by the image of calm captain Pat Cummins, may not be so easily shaken up unlike previous agitated sides.

“There could potentially be some roughness out there. That’s something we need to embrace,” Cummins told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be challenging at times. Our hitters are enjoying the chance to solve problems on their feet.”

While a veteran Australian may have sought a calmer approach, as opposed to the macho image they enjoyed prior to the ball-tamper scandal, this series is likely to turn into the tumultuous competition four years ago. Almost won in India.

Australia will need to be remarkably resilient throughout the four-game streak if it is to claim what will be arguably their biggest victory in decades. It would be better than their drought-busting wins in India in 2004, when Australia was in the middle of a golden generation and beat the waning strength West Indies in 1995.

It looks like the last chance for big hitters David Warner and Steve Smith to win in India, possibly along with a few others. Australia may not have a better opportunity with this in-form team, arguably the best since the heyday of the 2000s.

However, the injuries turned out to be at their worst for a fairly stable team. Quicks Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc won’t play in Nagpur but the biggest blow is to lose burgeoning all-rounder Cameron Green, whose absence will deprive them of invaluable flexibility.

This possibly spin-friendly surface at Nagpur has been tuned to reveal Australia’s biggest spin-bowling depth flaw behind frontrunner Nathan Lyon.

Unlimited offspin player Todd Murphy will make his debut with the hardest possible start, while versatile spinner Ashton Agar may be part of a rare three-prong spin attack for Australia despite holding a mediocre red ball record.

For Murphy, 22, Cummins said he won’t be deciding Australia’s final roster until the draw, saying, “He’s bowling really well here between the nets. He started really well for Victoria in first-class cricket.”

“If he accepts, there’s Nathan Lyon on the other end with whom he can work. He’s ready…100 percent ready to go no matter who we choose.”

While Australia will be short-lived, they face an Indian team that lacks a few stars, including fast paced Jasprit Bumrah and goalkeeper-hitter Rishabh Pant, who both blocked them in the final series.

The resurgence of superstar Virat Kohli, whose fortunes have been mixed in many tough battles against Australia, should inspire confidence that incredible home records can continue.

Otherwise, Australia could take a step towards climbing the biggest mountain in Test cricket and claiming its biggest prize – yes, bigger than the World Test Championship.

A victory on the toughest terrain possible would certainly have sparked unbridled enthusiasm for placid captain Cummins, who had unexpectedly taken the reins of captaincy a little over a year ago.

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