Australia batter Steve Smith believes the Nagpur pitch will offer plenty to the spinners, but Australia has reason to be hopeful after an excellent preparation in Bangalore.
- Steve Smith says the Nagpur pitch is likely to offer turn for the spinners and variable bounce for the seamers
- Smith said the left-handed batters would face a particularly testing time
- Smith said Australia could opt for just two seam bowlers in the match
Any mention of a Nagpur pitch in relation to an India vs Australia Test instantly recalls the famous third Test in 2004, when Australia prospered on a hard, flat pitch that suited the seamers and caused all sorts of consternation among the home team.
Jason Gillespie took match figures of 9-80 as Australia’s seamers took 16 of 20 wickets to beat India by 342 runs and claim a remarkable series win.
But that was at the old Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground — now, Test matches are played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium.
When Australia last played at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, it was a different story, as Jason Krejza stole the show with one of the most remarkable debuts in Australian cricket history.
The right-arm off spinner took a remarkable 12 wickets for an equally remarkable 358 runs for the match as Australia fell to a 172-run defeat in 2008.
In that match, two thirds of the total wickets fell to spinners, and the vast majority to off-spinners Krejza and Harbhajan Singh.
After inspecting the pitch at the VCA Stadium, Smith told ABC Sport that there would be plenty again here for spin bowlers.
“It’s quite a dry surface,” Smith said.
“There’s quite a lot of small jigsaw pieces kinda thing, that are quite loose.
“I think it will break up, I dunno how quickly it will break up, but I think it will break up at some stage.”
Given that Smith’s inspection of the wicket was two days before the start of the Test, any proposed crumbling of the pitch would likely take place sooner rather than later — suggesting perhaps a start may be on the cards for left-arm tweaker Ashton Agar or a debut for Todd Murphy.
Smith added that the variability in the pitch would also benefit Australia’s quick bowling options — however depleted they may be.
“Perhaps [there will be] a little bit of up and down for the seamers as well as the game goes on,” Smith said.
“[But there will be] a fair amount of spin as the game goes on as well.”
Smith noted one end of the pitch appearing to be drier than the other, with an area outside off stump for the left-handed batters being particularly noticeable.
“To the left handed batters, [with] the ball spinning in, it was quite dry at one section, so it could be challenging for them,” he said.
“We’ll wait and see, I don’t wanna try and put too much in people’s heads, we’ve gotta adapt on the go as we’re out there but that’s kinda how I see it at this stage.”
Australia’s batting line up has an abundance of lefties, with Smith and Marnus Labuschagne alone in the top eight of the team that played against South Africa at the SCG in batting right-handed.
That has led India’s management to suggest they will top-load their attack with spinners, with left-armers Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel likely licking their lips at the potential makeup of the Australian team.
Smith has been in India a week already, training with the team in Bangalore on pitches that are expected to turn significantly.
“It was really beneficial, some good surfaces for us. As the week went on it got more and more challenging for the batters with the way the ball was spinning, a bit of up and down for the seamers. Hopefully, it’s replicated something like what we’re going to get out there,” Smith said.
“[The] guys have been working on their methods and plans for what we’re likely to face, everyone is in a good place.”
The fact that the pitch will be expected to turn may become something of a blessing for Australia, which enters this Test with limited options from a pace perspective.
With Mitch Starc confirmed as missing and Josh Hazlewood and Cam Green both expected to lose their fitness race, Australia has been left thin on the ground when it comes to their pace attack.
“[Cam Green] certainly provides a good balance for us and gives us plenty of options, so yeah, if he misses out, it’s a shame,” Smith said, confirming that Australia was thinking of playing just two quick bowlers.
“I think we’ve still got plenty of cattle here.
“We’ve got a really good squad and it’s going to take a good squad to win over here.”
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