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Rohit, Cummins play down pitch chatter ahead of 1st Test

Australia s Green, Hazlewood out of India Test opener

February 8, 2023 04:40 PM

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India skipper Rohit Sharma and Australian counterpart Pat Cummins on Wednesday brushed aside concerns about the pitch ahead of the first of four eagerly awaited Tests.

Australian commentators have said that a bone-dry pitch has been prepared in Nagpur to make life difficult for the visitors' many left-handed batsmen in the match starting Thursday.

Cricket writer Robert Craddock told broadcaster SEN that if parts of the pitch had been prepared specifically to target Australia's left-handed batsmen, it would amount to "straight-up pitch doctoring".

Former Australia all-rounder Simon O'Donnell said the International Cricket Council "should step in and do something about it, if they think it's not right".

But Cummins told reporters that Australia's batters would take the pitch in their stride.

"Potentially, it looks a little bit dry for the left-handers and knowing how much traffic will probably go through there from the right-arm bowlers," said Cummins.

"It might be a fair bit of rough out there. Again that's something we just got to embrace. It's going to be fun, it's going to be challenging at times, but we have batters who relish the chance to problem solve on their feet."

Australia's set of key left-handers includes David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Matt Renshaw and Travis Head.

Their right-handers include Steve Smith -- who scored three centuries including a brilliant 178 during Australia's 2017 tour of India -- and Marnus Labuschagne, currently number one in the ICC Test rankings.

Cummins said that getting a good first-innings lead in India was more important than anywhere else in the world.

"You just got to find a way to put a big total on the board, especially thinking if it's going to spin, it's going to get really hard in the second innings," the fast bowler said.

- 'Not bothered' -
Indian skipper Sharma also downplayed concerns about the pitch, saying that the "focus is on playing the game".

"(In the) last series we played here, a lot was spoken about pitches. All 22 (players) are quality cricketers and not bothered about how much it is turning, how much it is seaming and all that."

India are likely to field three spinners, including Ravichandran Ashwin and the returning Ravindra Jadeja, but Sharma did not reveal the starting line-up.

Cummins confirmed that Australia would be without injured pacers Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc as well as all-rounder Cameron Green.

Foreign teams have often struggled to overcome conditions in India, with England thrashed 3-1 in 2021.

Australia last won a Test series in India in 2004 and India have won the teams' last three encounters, including twice in Australia.

A draw in any of the four Tests will be enough to secure world number one Australia a place in the ICC World Test Championship final at The Oval in June.

Second-placed India need to win at least 3-0 to assure themselves of a spot in that final for the second year running.

Indian cricket commentator Harsh Bhogle also brushed aside chatter about the pitch.

"So much talk about pitches before the game starts! For one, it is the same for both teams. And second, it has to present a challenge to the touring side. That is the essence of home and away contests," Bhogle wrote on Twitter.

Green, Hazlewood out

Australia's Cameron Green and Josh Hazlewood have been ruled out of the first Test against India due to injuries, skipper Pat Cummins confirmed on Wednesday.

All-rounder Green is struggling with a finger injury while fast bowler Hazlewood is out because of his Achilles tendon.

Both will miss the first of the four Tests beginning on Thursday in Nagpur alongside pacer Mitchell Starc.

"We will announce the team at the toss tomorrow but we are really confident on everyone in our touring party," Cummins said at the pre-match media conference.

"Cameron Green is injured, so he won't play, same as Josh Hazlewood."

He said he was "disappointed that they are not available. Hopefully, both (will) come back online for the second Test match."

But he added that Scott Boland "has been with us for the last 12 months and performed well in all conditions... We feel really really happy with the depth that we have."

Nathan Lyon will lead Australia's spin attack on a pitch that is expected to turn from day one as the tourists look to win their first Test series on Indian soil since 2004.

"Nathan is going to be right up there with our most important bowlers," Cummins said of the champion off-spinner, who has claimed 460 wickets in 115 Tests.

"He is going to bowl lots of overs. He has got the experience, so he is up for the challenge. He has been working with the other spin bowlers. He will lead our attack this series."

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