PERTH: It’s unusually cold here for the end of October. Perth is famous for the Freemantle Doctor, the cool afternoon sea breeze that’s strongest in December and January and loves to influence test-match sessions at WACA (now known as Optus Stadium). On this day it’s a different wind, with a serrated edge, which adds to the chill factor and keeps everyone running for their hoodies.
It is late afternoon and it is already cloudy and drizzling as Rahul Dravid approaches the net players. They have been huddled together for a long time, whispering to each other, awaiting the arrival of the Indian cricketers.
“What do we have here, guys,” Dravid asks with a smile. “Peace, sir,” says one, nervously rubbing his hands. “Veil like fire, huh,” says Dravid. He nods off and laughs, knowing what awaits Rohit Sharma’s men here against South Africa here on Sunday.
From the outside, the Optus Stadium is shaped like a huge luxury ocean liner, only much, much larger. Once inside, it’s a concrete colosseum similar to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with equally large square boundaries. The pace and rebound on offer are also comparable, although India’s batting manager Vikram Rathore said he felt the ball would have landed on the bat a little better than the MCG.
“It appears to be a good wicket,” Rathour said. “Melbourne was tough, but this one looks better, with a smoother pace and (with) a smoother rebound.”
South Africa is in a better position to take advantage of the strong rebound, of course, with a multiple choice of fast-paced options at their disposal, but they also have more at stake in this crunch game. After losing a point against Zimbabwe due to rain, and with a game coming up against Pakistan, a win here against India will give them some respite. India started well, but could have two more wins if they want to lead the group comfortably. Pakistan, who will play their first match of the day here against the Netherlands, will also be cheering on an India win as they increase their remaining chances of qualifying.
And that’s what tactics will come down to: the second match of a double header usually sees a slightly worn pitch, so despite the rebound, the team that wins the toss will be tempted to bat first as at the much slower. SCG?
Indian bowling coach Paras Mhambrey he had previously insisted that India would not tinker with a winning XI under any circumstances, so left arm spinner Axar Patel could be retained even if bouts are against him. “We already have four seamstresses (in Bhuvi, Arshdeep, Shami and Pandya), so nothing changes, at least for us,” Rathore said.
South Africa played both left arm spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, against Bangladesh at the SCG, but Shamsi may have to give way here for a pace – he’ll be the fast left arm of Marco Jansen or Lungi Ngidi instead?
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Despite all the pacing talk, there are two other factors that could prove significant in the game: SA are full of fit lefties capable of hitting over 160, making Ashwin’s presence a crucial factor in a double header. The other is that it is the first-rate performance of the two sides that could decide the game, not the form of the pacers.
India will also find out here if Jasprit Bumrah’s real beat is missing. Pacers may also need to adjust their lengths, aside from the naturally hit Pandya in the bridge, to be effective here.
Both teams have already played eight T20Is this year, albeit under very different conditions, with India winning four. Perth might be a different ball game, with a lot more at stake, but these two sides know each other so well that there is little room for surprise maneuvers on either side.