Practice games used to be hitherto seen by visiting teams as an ideal preparation to get used to the tough Indian conditions. No longer though. Australia will play the first Test in Nagpur on February 9 without any tour games; instead they will have a four-day preparatory camp at Alur, in the outskirts of Bangalore. Pat Cummins’ Australian team has arrived on Indian shores, hoping to become the first captain since Alastair Cook’s England side in 2012 to win a series here.
Instead of the practice games, Australia will train on customised pitches at Alur. Thanks to head coach Andrew McDonald and spin consultant Daniel Vettori’s association with Royal Challengers Bangalore, it is understood that Australia thought having a preparatory camp for four days would be ideal preparation before they travel to Nagpur.
With R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj waiting, Australia will have customised pitches that will test their batsmen and bowlers at Alur. It is understood that Australia will train on different sorts of scuffed-up pitches — slow turner, rank-turner, one with variable bounce – to get acclimated to the conditions that they are likely to encounter at Nagpur, Delhi and Ahmedabad. With Dharamsala pitch mostly suiting the seamers, it is understood that they have a green pitch also in place.
The reason for the absence of practice games is their past. During their 2013 tour of India, Australia played two practice matches in Chennai and ended-up getting whitewashed 4-0 – their first against India in a three-or more matches. And in those two practice games against Board President XI and India A, they faced Parvez Rasool, Sarabjit Ladda and Rakesh Dhruv. In 2017, in the lone practice match they played against India A, they got to face Shahbaz Nadeem in both the innings. And despite having K Gowtham, India A used him only in the second innings.
This is why, as Steve Smith said before arrival in India, they have found these practice matches to be irrelevant. “The last time we went I’m pretty sure we got served up a green-top (to practice on) and it was sort of irrelevant. We’re better off having our own nets and getting spinners in and bowling as much as they can. We’ll wait and see when we hit the ground. I think we’ve made the right decision to not play a tour match,” Smith told the Sydney Morning Herald.
There is also another reason why they have chosen to train at Alur rather than picking any other venue. With a high-intense four weeks of cricket ahead of them, they believe a bit of privacy would do them a world of good, especially away from all the media glare and attention. During the 2017 tour, Australia caught India by surprise, especially in the manner in which they not only handled the spinners, but how their own tweakers operated in these conditions with Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon having a productive series.
They went on to stun India on a rank turner in Pune and the hosts were stretched to the limits. Much of it was possible thanks to the preparation they had in Dubai, where head coach Darren Lehmann and spin consultant Sridharan Sriram came up with unique training methods to prepare them for the conditions.
This time both aren’t there and in place of Sriram, they have Vettori, who is not alien to these conditions. Australia have also called up a few local net bowlers including Jammu & Kashmir’s Abid Mushtaq, who took 32 wickets in the Ranji Trophy this season.
Although Australia have previous experience of facing Ashwin and Jadeja, it is understood that they are studying the footage of Axar a lot as his release points and the turn and bounce he gets off the pitch being seen as a huge threat.
Beginning Thursday, Australia will try everything they can to be prepared.