Apart from pursuing personal ambitions, the India A players will be striving to land a psychological blow on the Australians in the three-day warm-up match at the Brabourne Stadium from Friday.
For Steve Smith’s team, the tour opener is more than getting into rhythm and having a feel of the conditions. They know their performance here will determine the frame of mind heading into the first Test at Pune in a week’s time.
India A captain Hardik Pandya promised to make it difficult for the tourists. “If the visiting national team is not able to do well against an A team, it always creates doubt in the mind about if they can do well against the main team. Everyone in this team has scored enough runs or taken enough wickets to be part of this A team. Australia is an experienced team and I am hoping this will be a very competitive game,” said Pandya.
While only Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav are part of the Test squad which will do duty against Australia from February 23, the selectors have chosen a relatively strong team for the tour opener.
They have gone with players who have done well in the domestic season, but the focus will be on the spinners led by Shahbaz Nadeem and Kuldeep. If the two succeed in creating doubt in the minds of Smith & Co, it can lead to a panic situation and give Virat Kohli’s team a psychological edge going into the series opener.
The 27-year-old Nadeem has over 300 first-class wickets and Kuldeep is a clever chinaman bowler, who was also in the Test squad against Bangladesh. The two will give Australia a taste of what lies in store when they are up against R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
In a strange strategy, Australia have opted for only one warm-up game, preferring to train at the ICC Academy in Dubai instead. There could be a well-thought out reason as warm-up matches can go either way. In recent memory, Australia played two tour openers at the Brabourne Stadium and the results dictated the outcome of the series.
In 1998, led by Mark Taylor, they never recovered from the mauling at the hands of Mumbai, led by a double hundred from captain Sachin Tendulkar, and surrendered meekly in the Test series.
In 2004, they dominated Mumbai in the practice game and went on to claim a historic series win.
Apart from the spinners, the home team batsmen will be looking to target Australia’s spinners. While Nathan Lyon is seasoned enough not to be affected by one game, the likes of Steve O’Keefe, Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson will be vulnerable. Even though the 32-year-old O’Keefe has been around for long in first-class cricket, he has played just four Tests, and Agar is two Tests old.
While there are no big names in batting, except all-rounder Pandya , going by how the two young left-handers Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan are decimating attacks in domestic cricket, the Aussie bowlers will feel the pressure.
Pandya declared that there will be no shortage of inspiration for the players as it is an ideal opportunity to stake claim to the senior team.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone in the team to show what they are capable of. This is an opportunity to do something amazing that will send a good impression to the selectors and come on their radar.”