Indian captain Virat Kohli on Wednesday played down suggestions Australia are vulnerable after the ball-tampering scandal, as his side try to win a series Down Under for the first time.
Australia begin the opening Test in a scorching Adelaide on Thursday on a run of poor form and without batting powerhouses Steve Smith and David Warner, who remain banned.
Without them, in case you hadn’t heard / read from elsewhere, India could have a golden opportunity to break their series drought.
But Kohli – who electrified viewers with viral footage of a pre-Test batting exhibition in the nets – said he was taking nothing for granted.
“I personally don’t think any Australian side is vulnerable at home,” Kohli said at his pre-match press conference.
“You cannot take any side for granted and more so Australia in Australia. Whatever happened, the skill level is still there, you have to respect that. However much you talk or behave, it’s your skill that counts.
“They certainly still have the skill to dominate at home. We’re not taking anything for granted. We are not expecting them to play in a certain manner, we are just focussing on our skills and the things we need to do right, first. We want to correct things that we didn’t do well in our last two tours.”
India named a 12-man squad that included a recall for veteran opener Murali Vijay as well as confirmation that the visitors will opt for six proper batsmen.
Vijay, who was dropped following a pair in the second Test against England this year, won back his place after promising young opener Prithvi Shaw was ruled out after suffering ankle ligament damage in a warm-up game.
In the same match, Vijay hit a century and will face the new ball with KL Rahul.
India opted to hold back the naming of their final XI until the morning of the Test as they mull whether to play all-rounder Hanuma Vihari or hard-hitting batter Rohit Sharma.
Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will lead their pace attack – ranked among the country’s strongest ever – along with off-spinner Ravi Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav missed out.
Kohli was asked if this bowling unit can learn to adapt in Australian conditions better than on previous tours.
“I think it’s pretty different from the last time we came here, there is much more experience and the guys are fitter than they were last time,” Kohli said. “In Australia, the key is to bowl in good areas for longer periods, and the conditions become hard when it gets hot, the pitches can be flat purely because of the Kookaburra ball not doing much after 20-odd overs until it reverses around the 45-50 overs.
“The guys (bowlers) feel that they are at the peak of their skill levels at the moment. We are not looking forward to ideal bowling or batting conditions. The guys are of the mindset that however hard it might be, they are looking forward to performing in those conditions, doing what the team whats. No one is going to go out there, gunning for a six-wicket haul for themselves, if it takes 8 good overs and getting one wicket for the team, they are ready to do that,” the 30-year-old added.
Workload shouldn’t be a burden
Indian bowling attack, rated as the most balanced in recent years, will have its task cut in all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s absence but the additional workload on hard Australian wickets shouldn’t be perceived as “burden”, reckoned Kohli.
Pandya is currently recuperating from a back injury and many pundits believed that Baroda all-rounder suited Australian conditions.
The Indian skipper agreed that the current bowling attack must handle those extra overs amongst themselves, a cushion that all-rounder Pandya would have given.
“Losing the all-rounder obviously has an impact. I mean every side would like to have a fast-bowling all-rounder, which we don’t have right now with Hardik (Pandya) injured. That obviously is a great luxury to have for any side,” Kohli said.
“We don’t so we have to go with best possible combination. Again, the workload on guys who will play in the absence of an all-rounder will be high but that is something that has already been discussed.”
While admitting Pandya’s absence is an issue but not a major one, felt the skipper.
“I don’t see it as a major one because in Australia you still have to bowl really well even if you are an all-rounder. To contain the batsmen is always a challenge here,” he added.
About the opposition bowling attack, Kohli spoke about showing positive intent against Nathan Lyon, considered by many as the best off-spinner of his time.
“He (Lyon) understands the pace of the wicket, the bounce it’s going to provide him and the where the fielder should be. He hits the bat harder and quicker than any other spinner that I have faced in Australia. You have to at your best against guys like Nathan and their bowling attack,” skipper said.
“We definitely aren’t going to think too much about anyone but we are also not going to be tentative against anyone. We just have to back our game and show that we are confident of our skill sets and guys have to find ways to play different bowlers accordingly. Some might want to sweep an off-spinner and some might not.
“So we just have to figure out our game plans, as I said, adapt quickly, see how the wicket is behaving and find a way to score runs. We just don’t want to stand there and do nothing. You have got to score runs if you want to win Test matches,” Kohli
India’s XII for the first Test:- Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah