As Australia headed to India this year to play for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, one thing they counted on was experience. David Warner and Steve Smith would lead the batting on their third Test tour of the country after 22 IPL seasons between them. Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc could not boast of such IPL records, but they would also make their third Test tour. Patrick Cummins would lead the team after returning to Test cricket in 2017, waking Indian batsmen with bouncers at a dormant Ranchi lane.
The best plans of mice and men. Starc started the tour injured, denying Australia the benefits of his reverse swing and his lower order runs. Warner got off to a bad start before having his arm broken by Mohammed Siraj and sent home. Cummins, however, started the trip knowing that his mother was sick, not knowing that he would have to leave after the second test, as she entered hospice care.
The seriousness of the situation highlighted the absurdity of some complaints about the team’s results on the field. At the same time, the ride continues and tourists need to find their way back when the third Test starts in Indore on Wednesday. Starc is finally ready to play, albeit with some limitations still on the damaged finger on his bowling hand.
So does versatile wunderkind Cameron Green, who at number six joins a batting order full of India rookies: Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Alex Carey. Even Usman Khawaja, with extensive experience elsewhere, batted for the first time in India. Peter Handscomb is effectively the opposite of Khawaja, having now produced his best performances on two tours of India, while playing just a dozen times elsewhere.
These are the players tasked with turning around a terrible hitting tour. Australian teams have been knocked out 76 times in India. The 91 all out in Nagpur to start this series is the lowest score ever. Delhi’s 113th to miss out on a winning spot is sixth on that list. Only twice in Test history have Australia lost nine wickets cheaper than that day in India’s capital – the infamous 2011 Cape Town 9 for 21, and while they managed a further 47 statement runs in the 2005 victory over the short World XI in Sydney.
What Australia really needs above all is Smith’s return to racing. Perhaps his temporary return to the captaincy could help him click. His 2017 tour was one of his best: Alastair Cook is the only other visiting captain to match Smith’s three centuries in a series in India. Recapturing that peak is unrealistic, but something this good could do the trick.
“Usually it brings out the best in me, I’m excited to lead this week,” he said before the start. “I know these conditions well. It’s like my second home playing here. I’ve played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what wickets are likely to do. I’m looking forward to it.”
The batting order changes seem obvious: step in to replace Warner and are joined by Khawaja at the top of the order, Labuschagne and Smith forming their block in the middle, Handscomb up to five to replace underperforming Matthew Renshaw and Green with Carey to round out the things.
Bowling is more complicated. Smith mentioned that Green’s inclusion opened up the possibilities of an extra hitter, holding back three spinners or seeking extra “airspeed”. None of this seems likely. Green as a fourth pitcher would lighten the offense. Lyon worked well with junior spins Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann in Delhi, but Murphy did not bowl in training the day before the Test, suggesting that his lateral strain remains an issue. The airspeed would suggest having discovered the fast man Lance Morris in India, but Morris spent the same training session as a net shooter throwing off the spin.
All this means the likely setup will be Scott Boland, who was good in Nagpur, to join Starc, Green, Lyon and Kuhnemann, unless there is a late decision to add Mitchell Swepson’s leg spin to the club’s counterattacks. Lyon and Kuhnemann’s left. orthodox arm. The Indore field is empty at both ends, but the likelihood of a slow turn makes such a move unlikely. As has been the case on this tour, injuries and absences have made most of Australia’s selection decisions for them.