The conditions at the Maharashtra Cricket Association ground are tailor-made for spinners. Even though Australia have brought along a battery of spinners to test the India batsmen, Virat Kohli and his men are unlikely to spend too much time bothering about the prospect of facing Nathan Lyon & Co in the upcoming series.
Instead, the main threat is likely to come from the pace of Mitchell Starc. He is the one the visitors will be looking to for inspiration and wickets.
With his pace and ability to use the old ball to telling effect, the tall left-arm pacer is Australia’s best hope of stopping the hosts’ in-form batting line-up.
There have been occasional match-winning spells but it’s rare that a fast bowler has dominated a series in the subcontinent. Starc did that on the tour of Sri Lanka last year when he claimed 24 wickets in three Tests, 11 more than other pacers in the series combined.
The ability to generate speed even on dead tracks makes the 6’5” bowler a threat in any condition, having developed reverse swing since he played in India in 2013.
With Pune experiencing dry heat and the playing surface likely to get abrasive, the ball will get old early bringing Starc’s skills into play.
Australia captain Smith expects the wicket to be slow but he knows Starc can take the wicket out of the equation with his speed in air.
LEADER OF THE PACK
Also, being the only pacer in the Aussie squad who has bowled at the Test level in India --- Mitchell Marsh has played in two Twenty20s here and Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird are yet to bowl in any international in India, Starc’s experience will be invaluable.
“First of all, the fact is that he can bowl 150kmph. That’s a good start. But with that, you’ve also got to have some skills to take wickets, particularly on slow wickets. He’s a very good reverse bowler, he controls the ball really well. So that’s a great starting point for a fast bowling spearhead in the sub-continent conditions, where the wickets aren’t quick and you can’t bounce guys out. You have to have other plans, and getting the ball to shift in the air is a big weapon for fast bowlers. When the ball is shifting, he is one of the bets going around,” said Smith.
Kohli is also aware of the challenge, having captained the left-arm pacer at the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
“He is a world-class bowler we all know that. I have played with him in IPL, I faced him in my first tour to Australia. From then to now it’s a massive change,” said Kohli.
“He has learnt the art of reverse swing and bowling with the old ball as well is amazing to see, the way he has developed his skills. That’s something that every cricketer in the world would admire. Like you admire world-class batsmen, you admire world-class bowlers as well and you respect their skills and Mitchell is one of them. He has really taken his game to the next level and that’s why he is counted amongst the top bowlers in world cricket and deserves to be there because he has worked really hard and the results are evident.”