PUNE: After speculation over the playing surface for the first Test to be held in the cultural capital of Maharashtra, things have started taking shape. If the local pitch curator said a day earlier that the ball “will fly”, the captains were unanimous on Wednesday that there will be spin.
Virat Kohli and Steve Smith both felt the surface was dry and the Australian even said his team is ready for Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and “whoever India’s third spinner is.” However, he may have a selection dilemma in choosing one from medium-pace-bowling all-rounder Mitch Marsh and Glenn Maxwell, who bowls off-spin.
One man the captains reckon as a force irrespective of the conditions is Mitchell Starc. Regarded as the best of the new generation of fast bowlers, the 27-year-old has played just 34 Tests in a little over six years. Regardless, his ability to strike on pitches he is unfamiliar with is noteworthy. Rookie on Australia’s 2013 tour of India, he took 24 wickets in the three Tests his team lost in Sri Lanka last year.
Little wonder then that the Indians have got Rajasthan’s Aniket Chowdhury at the nets to practise against the angles of a left-arm pacer. “I played with him in the IPL and faced him on my first tour to Australia (2011-12). Despite injuries, his evolution as a bowler has been outstanding. He has learnt the art of reverse swing and bowling with the old ball. The way he has developed skills is amazing. Like you admire world-class batsmen, you admire world-class bowlers and respect their skills. Mitchell is one of them,” said Kohli. For once, he didn’t repeat the “we’re ready for all” line.
Married to former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy’s niece Alyssa, who is an international keeper herself, Starc may not get the bounce he enjoys in Australia on this trip. But what he will look forward to is reverse swing, something that Indian fast bowlers used well against England. If the pitch is dry and abrasive, at his pace, this can be a valuable asset.
“First of all, he can bowl over 150 kmph. That’s a good start,” said Smith of what separates Starc from others. “But you also need other skills to take wickets on slow pitches, where you can’t bounce batsmen out. Getting the ball to reverse becomes a major weapon in that case and he’s one of the best when that happens.”
Despite packing the squad with four specialist spinners as against three quicks, Australia’s hopes of reversing the trend after losing their last nine Tests in Asia centre around one belonging to the second category.