Test cricket great Ian Healy has taken aim at officials in India over what some have described as an act of sabotage against Pat Cummins' Australia side. The visitors were hoping to get some much needed batting practice on the Nagpur pitch that caused them so many issues in the first Test defeat to India, which finished up inside three days.
The Aussie side sunk to a new low in Nagpur, with not one batter registering a half century during the innings and 132-run defeat. India's spinners Ravi Jedeja and Ravi Ashwin proved too much for the hapless visitors, who were rolled for 91 in the second innings - the lowest total Australia has ever recorded in a series in India.
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It's little wonder Australia coach Andrew McDonald wanted his players to return to the scene of their horror show on Sunday, after booking a training session at the VCA Stadium. On what would have ben day four of the Test had Australia not collapsed so spectacularly on the Saturday, the Aussies were keen to try and iron out some of their obvious deficiencies with the bat, on the turning Nagpur wicket.
Australia had apparently requested to use Sunday as a training session and asked local officials to hold off watering the pitch until they had done so. It later emerged that either the message didn't get through to curators, or local officials were reluctant to help the tourists out as Australia's planned training session was forced to be scrapped when they realised the pitch had already been watered.
Former Test wicketkeeper Healy pulled no punches when discussing the situation on SEN Radio. The 58-year-old described it as a deliberate and "pathetic" act from the host nation and called on the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take action.
“It’s really embarrassing the scuppering of our plans to get some practice sessions on that Nagpur wicket,” Healy said. "That’s not good, that’s just not good for cricket. The ICC needs to step in here. For them to water the wicket unceremoniously when it was requested for practice is horrible and that has to improve.”
— I am Groot 🥱 (@WVenkatarao) February 13, 2023
@IndianCricNews @cricketcomau @FoxCricket this is an absolute a disgrace. After getting permission to Train on the Nagpur pitch and the curators go and water it.... intentionally. If this was in Australia then indiawould threaten to boycott the series. @gjweavr
— donny (@donny_perth84) February 13, 2023
First the Doctored Pitch drama and now this, Nagpur pitch curator and ground staff deserves a pay hike 😁
— deepak malik (@malik0894) February 12, 2023
The latest controversy around the Nagpur pitch came after Indian curators were accused of doctoring the wicket to target Australia's left-handed heavy batting lineup. Reports emerged before the first Test that curators were selectively watering the middle of the pitch, but leaving the end near the left-hander's leg stump dry. A number of officials in Indian uniforms - including head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma - watched as ground staff targeted specific areas of the pitch.
While the Aussie batters struggled on the wicket, India's players - particularly their skipper Rohit, who hit a majestic century in the first innings - made a mockery of concerns about the standard of the pitch. Things don't get any easier for the tourists for the second Test in Delhi, where the home side have not tasted defeat in a Test since 1987.
Aussies weighing up changes for second Test in Delhi
Australia coach Andrew McDonald is refusing to panic though and has urged his team to stick to their original game plan, despite the shocking start to their Border-Gavaskar series. Cummins' men have shown they can be resilient, best demonstrated when it took to the 15th and final day of last year's tour of Pakistan to clinch the series.
"If you feel as though your preparation was good and the way you want to go about it is good then you recommit to that," Aussie coach McDonald said. "If you shift and try to change too much that's when you get lost as a touring team. We've seen teams come to Australia and try to do the same."
McDonald has flagged some changes to the XI as quicks Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, as well as allrounder Cameron Green, push for selection. Queensland left-arm orthodox spinner Matthew Kuhnemann is a "live chance" to play as third tweaker, with Nathan Lyon and breakout first Test star Todd Murphy in Delhi.
Kuhnemann is replacing state teammate Mitchell Swepson, who is returning home to be with his partner ahead of the birth of their first child. Swepson is expected to return to India ahead of the third Test, scheduled to begin on March 1.
"We feel as though when we came here we had a clear vision of how to play, how we want to go about it and we need to reinvest into that," McDonald added. "We feel as though it can work and the players within the change room are very capable for the challenges ahead.
"We had a slight setback in the first Test match, we got behind in the game. Are we able to shift the pressure back into the Indian dressing room? That's the key."
If Green is fit to play he will likely replace Matt Renshaw at No.6, with the left-hander making scores of 0 and two in Nagpur. Green's inclusion would also give the Aussies the option of playing a third spinner due to his ability to bowl seam-up. "We feel as though with the balance of the squad we wanted four spinners here - two going in, two going away," McDonald added.
"That was heavily discussed if we needed a spinner to go the other way so Matt comes in with Mitch going home to see (partner) Jess. He's (Kuhnemann) a live chance to play in the next Test match. If we play three spinners then we clearly want back-up here and available in the squad if that's the way we want to go."
The other big selection decision for Australia is likely to centre around Travis Head, with many fans left perplexed that one of Australia's most in-form batters over the last 12 months was dropped for the first Test. Reports from NewsCorp have emerged that Head is being considered at the top of the Aussie batting order at the expense of veteran David Warner, who made 1 and 10 in the first Test in Nagpur and averages just over 22 in his career in India.
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