After a gap of nearly 10 days, the 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy is set to resume. It seems like a long time ago. In between, we saw Australia Women add another World Cup to their trophy cabinet, the New Zealand-England Test series is set to reach its conclusion, and various unwanted social media discourses surrounding Harmanpreet Kaur and KL Rahul.
Also, Australia have lost two key players in David Warner and their captain, Pat Cummins. That is an experience of 152 Tests between the two. However, not all is grim for Australia. They are also set to welcome Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green back in the side. Both are yet to feature in this series due to finger injuries they suffered in the Boxing Day Test. Travis Head showed glimpses of positivity while opening in the second innings of the Delhi Test.
All these factors, despite the crucial unavailabilities, can prove to be a blessing in disguise for Australia. They can now field an efficient combination that suffered on one facet or the other in the first two Tests. It also takes care of their selection headaches without making the tough calls.
Bowling balance falls into place
Cummins was the sole pacer in Australia’s line-up for the Delhi Test. Even though he bowled only 13 overs in Australia’s 110 overs of bowling, the tourists missed a second fast-bowling option. They would have loved someone like Scott Boland to cease runs from one end but the option was unavailable since they picked three spinners and were not in a position to compromise their batting.
Green’s inclusion can kill two birds with one stone. Australia can play two pacers without having to omit a spinner. Green averages 35.04 with the bat and 29.78 with the ball in his young Test career. Although his experience in Asia is limited and he has not played any Test cricket this year, his presence will provide balance to Australia’s bowling attack on paper. Also, his 77 against Sri Lanka in Galle will give Australia further confidence. Peter Handscomb’s unbeaten knock of 72 in Delhi assured Green will come in for Matt Renshaw.
Starc over Cummins an upgrade?
Fast bowling can be hard toil in India. Considering the same, Cummins’ series figures of 3/119 might not look too bad. But compare them with that of the Indian pacers. They have made life miserable for Australian batters on rare occasions, especially when India haven’t operated with spin at either end. Mohammad Shami has picked seven wickets for 101 runs. Mohammed Siraj has only one wicket but has conceded only 60 runs in 18 overs.
Clearly, Cummins has not been at his best in the series and that was evident from his opening spell in the Nagpur Test - 0/23 in three overs. His absence for the third Test - to be with his ill mother back - has saved Australia from taking the harsh call of omitting their captain. The sentiment factor aside, the timing of Cummins’ return home is pretty good. The 10-day gap has allowed Starc’s finger to heal better. He is still not 100% fit.
"It's good enough. There's going to be a level of discomfort, and I don't think it is going to be 100% for a little while, but the ball is coming out quite nicely, and I feel like I'm pretty much at full tilt," Starc said on Monday (February 27).
The question is if Starc is an upgrade over his captain. Starc averages 50.14 with the ball in four Tests in India as compared to Cummins’ 32.81 in the same number of matches. There is not much to prove that Starc is a better pick except his left-arm angle.
However, Starc holds an edge over Cummins when it comes to their secondary skill. Starc is a better batter of spin bowling. Cummins averages 24.7 in his Test career at a strike-rate of 47.23, against spin. Similar numbers for Starc stand at 28.03 (average) and 64.37 (strike-rate). To emboss more, Starc averages 32.8 in India, better than a lot of specialist batters to tour the country. Starc will also be without any horror memories from the first two Tests.
Warner out, Head in
The series has established that David Warner’s Test record in Asia is irreparable. In India, he now averages 21.8 in 19 innings, his lowest average in any country.
He had scores of 1, 10 and 15 in the series before a fracture in his elbow ruled him out of batting in the second innings of the Delhi Test. Travis Head grabbed his chance in his absence. Opening the innings, his 39 off 39 balls in the last half hour of play on Day 2 showed the tourists what can be achieved if they attack the right way.
Head himself has a subpar record in Asia but his counter-attack while playing straight had India in a fix. It is a quality the rest of Australian batters have struggled to acquire. Warner’s return home saves the management from an awkward conversation with one of their star batters.
Australia’s Probable XI in Indore: Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy, Matthew Kuhnemann.
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