A peerless Virat Kohli and his “fearless” India would look to make perfect choices before unleashing their might on an Australian team which is ready for revenge but not exactly in ‘pink of health’ ahead of the first Day/Night Test starting here on Thursday.
Media mogul Kerry Packer, while promoting his path-breaking ‘World Series Day/Night Test matches’ on Channel 9 back in late 1970s, had an unforgettable caption “Big Boys Play At Night”.
Even in 2020, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate catch-line for a series where Kohli’s magnificence meets its match in Steve Smith’s manic consistency, Cheteshwar Pujara’s doggedness challenged by a much younger Marnus Labuschagne, ready to show the world that he isn’t a one-season wonder. All this would be under lights at the Adelaide Oval.
And then there are those mean fast men on both sides aiming to instill the fear of pink ball in twilight zone, creating all sorts of doubts in the batsmen’s minds.
A Josh Hazlewood versus Mohammed Shami will be as enticing a sub-plot as Jasprit Bumrah bowling those yorkers in reply to Pat Cummins’ barrage of bouncers.
With a workhorse like Ishant Sharma missing from Indian ranks and the enforcer David Warner absent in the Australian line-up, the teams are evenly placed in terms of strength.
However, there will certainly be some distinct home advantage for Australia along with the experience of playing more Day/Night Tests.
A day/night Test match has its own little grammar where batsmen are expected to attack in the first session while bowlers are at their peak once the sun sets, allowing the pink kookaburra to pick its pace up.
Never has an Indian team been so spoilt for choices with multiple options in place for various positions.
Even 24 hours before the game, one can’t be sure what exactly would be the perfect combination going into a Test match which isn’t exactly conventional in nature.
And the two practice games have only thrown up more dilemmas for India rather than giving them definitive answers that they were seeking from the encounters.
The biggest debate is the opening position. Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal, as a pair, flopped in New Zealand on seaming tracks and Shaw’s shot-a-ball trigger happy batting technique isn’t exactly inspiring highest confidence.
In Shubman Gill, India has one for the future but will Kohli and Ravi Shastri are ready to throw a youngster at the deep end of the pool or overlook KL Rahul’s poor Test track record and bank more on his experience?
Two days before the game, a clear picture hasn’t emerged although Gill’s batting has earned him the vote of both Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar, the two names inscribed on the glittering trophy that the teams are playing for.
Can Rahul be fitted in at No.6?
But then it would be at the expense of Hanuma Vihari, who has done no wrong in his two years with Indian team and can also bowl some part-time off-breaks. Are they ready to take that risk? No one knows at this point.
And then the continuing debate on who is more needed — batsman-keeper Rishabh Pant or a keeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha?
Saha’s fifty in the red-ball first-class match was achieved in a tougher setting than Pant’s 73-ball 100 under lights against a second string attack.
But Pant can be a match-winner while Saha at best is a match-saver with the bat.
Both their techniques are fragile and Hazlewood, Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon will test them relentlessly.
On Tuesday, India’s top batters were being troubled by Thangarasu Natarajan’s incoming deliveries with pink kookaburra at the Adelaide nets.
If Natarajan, at 130-plus, can trouble them so much, then Starc, world’s top wicket-taker in pink ball Tests, can be menacing.
At times, less options make it easier to choose and Kohli would hope that he makes the right choices so that Ajinkya Rahane can help India do an encore once he takes a break.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandra Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav.
Australia: Tim Paine (captain & wicketkeeper), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.
Match Starts at 9:30 am IST.