When a part of Team India will begin their battle against the Aussies in the second T20I at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday, some 11 odd kilimetres away in New South Wales, the other part of the team would have been done with the first day of audition for the perfect XI for the impending Test series against Tim Paine's men. Chesteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari and others will look to get into the est groove as India A will take on Australia A in a three-day warm-up tie at Drummoyne Oval starting Sunday.
India will be playing two practice matches against Australia A ahead of the anticipated series that begins from December 17 at the Adelaide with the pink-ball affair under the lights. And the two games will give Team India a chance to answer a few many questions in a bid to arrive at their perfect XI for the Border-Gavaskar series where India will be defending the trophy having scripted a historic 2-1 win in their last visit in 2018/19.
The opening pair
With Rohit Sharma absent, Mayank Agarwal seems the only likely possibility to retains his opening spot although he managed only one half-century, a gritty 99-ball 58, in the last Test series India played, in New Zealand in February. His scores read:34, 58, 7 and 3. Rohit had missed that series as well and Prithvi Shaw was picked as the second opener. The youngster showed struggles against the moving ball, but did overcome the hurdle to put of a 64-ball 54 in Christchurch in the second Test. As a pair however, they did not make an impact during the tour with their partnership scores reading: 16, 27, 30 and 8.
Shubman Gill stands a strong chance in in giving Shaw a fight for the second spot. Simnce 2018, he has been the best batsman in India A Test matches scoring 970 runs in eight unofficial matches, including two double centuries. Yes a few of those runs came as a middle-order batsman, but he had scored 136 as an opener against New Zealand A in February, the last unofficial Test he played.
Meanwhile, KL Rahul too is an option for India. He has previously opened for India in Test criket including three games in Australia in the last tour where he scored only 57 runs in five innings. His diminishing form urged the selectors to drop him ahead of the home Test campaign of World Test Championship last year, losing the spot to Rohit. He hasn't been part of any red-ball game hence nor was he part of the India A team in New Zealand. If the management are considering him as an option, they might rest him from the T20Is, given Sanju Samson can act as the wicketkeeper-batsman in his stead, and ask him to play the two warm-up games.
Not to forget, India also have a fourth back-up option in Hanuma Vihari who had opened alongside Mayank in Melbourne in the last tour.
Who will replace Virat Kohli?
Kohli will be playing only the Test series opener in Adelaide before he leaves for home on paternal leave. If Shaw is picked as the opener and Rahul is kept as a back-up, Gill might be given a chance to play at No.4 given his experience in first-class cricket as a middle-order batsman.
Ishant Sharma has been brilliant over the last few years as a first-change bowler, piling on the pressure created by the new-ball pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. In his absence, India will look to choose amongst Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj who are likely to play all both the warm-up games.
Pujara, Vihari to be back after 10 months
The last time the two played international cricket or any form in that matter was in Febraury, in the New Zealand tour although Pujara did play the Ranji Final in March. With pandemic hitting the sport, both failed to get any sort of match practice as even their plans to play in the English County season got disrupted. Neither of them were also picked for IPL 2020. Both will make the best of the two warm-up ties to gear themselves up for the big contest where both are certainties for the best XI.
Can Kuldeep emerge as the lone-spinner?
Kuldeep had played only one game in the last tour of Australia, in Sydney in the fourth Test and finished with a five-for. But that also remains his last Test appearance. He lost his spot in the home campaign of WTC and also in the New Zealand tour. The warm-up games gives a huge opportunity for him to show why he needs to be placed ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin.
Injured Jadeja might miss the first Test and with Ashwin's batting ability, he might be picked ahead of Kuldeep in the XI for the Australia series.