Nagpur diaries: Spin-obsessed Australians, sweeping Suryakumar Yadav and monkey sighting at Jamtha
Before the first Test begins, teams had a chance to try out a few things and some langurs came to watch the party as well
If you want to scare an Indian in Australia, talk of grass and bounce. For those well-versed with cricket and its language, this used to be a common ploy when India went Down Under, amplified by ex-cricketers who would drive home the point.
Then India won a series in Australia for the first time in 2018, 70 years after the two teams first contested. Then they did it again, two years later with a virtual second-string bowling attack conquering their fortress Gabba. Australia have now lost to India, in three successive series and it feels like the tables have turned.
Winning in India has been equally challenging for the Australians. But despite coming in as the more comfortably placed on the World Test Championship charts and as the No 1 team, a lot of the halo around Australia is missing.
If it's India, the ball will turn. That's another familiar cricket terminology. But in preparing to cope with the spin and bounce, the Australians have embraced the extremes. No tour match, curated net sessions with roughed-up surfaces, and some help from a little-known Ashwin impersonator.
“He's just another off-spinner,” Steve Smith told reporters. “Mahesh, who bowls in a similar style to Ashwin but we have got other off-spinners there as well. I don’t think we are overthinking. We know Ash is a very good bowler, particularly in these conditions. Hopefully, we have the tools in the kit bag to counter that.”
ASHWIN-LIKE BOWLER MEETS ASHWIN
Life was hard for Mahesh Pithiya, only a week ago. The Junagadh-born off-spinner living with limited means, would moan he wasn’t getting enough game time for Baroda, where he moved a decade ago.
On Tuesday, he was the cynosure of all eyes. Certainly among Indian cricketers training at the Vidarbha Cricket Association nets. Everyone knew him as the 21-year-old spinner of slight build who was helping Australia prepare for the spin Test. Virat Kohli would give him a ‘I know about you’ wink as he walked out to train. Other players watched with amusement as he got busy giving interviews.
Pithiya finally met Ashwin, his bowling idol for the first time. “He asked me, how Australian batters trained. I told him all that I could,” he said.
“Most of their batters other than Smith and Labuschagne resort to the sweep shot very early,” said Pithiya. “In the first net session in Alur, I got Smith out many times,” he said.
The wickets in Alur are said to be rougher than the training pitches at Nagpur. Australia continue to see merit in what Pithiya’s offering. He has been asked to stay with the team nets until the second Test in Delhi.
With a selfie in the bag with Ashwin and Nathan Lyon, Pithiya’s cricket pilgrimage has picked up speed.
CLOSE IN CATCHING FOCUS
Both teams appear to be training in anticipation of a low-scoring face-off. Australia continued their innovative ways to train with their support staff feeding Marnus Labuschagne under the helmet at short-leg with some close catches, bouncing off the outer edge of a rugby ball. Labuschagne, a long-format specialist, doesn’t look at short-leg as a punishment posting and expect him to keep the Indian batters engaged with some verbals when the going gets tense. India did their own share of close-in catching practice with Suryakumar Yadav having a long stint with shin pads on.
MONKEY CHECKS IN
While both the teams trained for three hours each, a line of langurs made an appearance, passing by the boundary wall of the training nets at Jamtha. For some time, their presence left the visitors so amused, they halted the net session just to see them go. Expect some Australian team social media handles to share the spoils from their mobile cams.