Joe Burns is Will Truman. For the past – oh it almost seems like decades now – an entire country has been obsessed with him. At least Jim Carey’s character didn’t know his whole life was being picked apart by a public that delighted in his weirdness. Cricket lovely cricket, eh?
An opening batsman, or really anyone who is out of form, could do with a few less voices sloshing around in their head as they try to find something – anything – that works. One good shot in the nets, a timely arm around the shoulder, a voodoo ritual.
Then, on Wednesday morning, the captain of Australia sat in front of the press and spoke about continuity. It was a classy move. It should inspire Burns. It may even make sure that the only thing he hears as he walks out to bat in Adelaide is Tim Paine saying “I believe in you”.
Similar – perhaps even sharper – focus might have fallen on Prithvi Shaw if the series was being held in India. He is replacing Rohit Sharma at the top of the order and will endure his biggest challenge ever. The pink ball is no friend to even seasoned openers, let alone one about to play his fifth Test. The first 20 overs, when it retains its shine and hardness, can feel like an examination with no right answers. Survive it though and you take control.
That might well be the theme of this Test match. Two top orders, neither one in top shape, facing off against two top bowling attacks, each vying for the title of the world’s best. There will be mistakes, but both sides just need to make sure they aren’t match-defining. Course, there is another way of looking at it. You have the chance to play a big innings, defying great odds and a multitude of critics. You have the chance to go down in history.
Last five completed matches, most recent first
In the spotlight
Everything flips when we start talking middle orders. India have daring in the form of Virat Kohli and grit in the form of Cheteshwar Pujara. Neither man steps back from a fight and both are capable of determining the outcome of a Test match all on their own. India chose not to play them in the only day-night practice game they had ahead of the showdown in Adelaide. Perhaps they thought they needed to see how the other batsmen shaped up more than giving their two best bets to score big runs time against the pink ball.
Australia have similar quality in their line-up. Steven Smith has forged a lot of his world-beater reputation by pummeling Indian bowling attacks and since Marnus Labuschagne tries to copy everything he does, there’s a fair chance he’ll be thorn number two in the visitors’ flesh. Both of them are unorthodox. They also have a profound appetite for runs. And with the advantage of playing in their own conditions, they might even seem un-outable.
The trick will be to get all four players in early, while the ball is still new enough, or ensure they don’t settle until twilight comes and complicates batting.
Without David Warner, Australia look a little light at the top. So instead of randomly throwing in people who haven’t played for them in a long while, they have decided to trust the incumbent – Burns – and a fighter – Matthew Wade – while also bringing in a highly-rated young allrounder – Cameron Green – to help balance the XI. Best laid plans…
Australia (probable): 1 Joe Burns, 2 Matthew Wade, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
Rohit Sharma won the IPL at the cost of his ability to start this series. Prithvi Shaw takes his place, with India hoping his strokeplay can be used to counter the build-up of new-ball pressure. Ishant Sharma was injured during the IPL as well, and his control and leadership will be missed.
India: 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
Any day-night game features grass on the pitch to protect the pink ball. Although Kookaburra have made considerable advancements so that the amount greenery doesn’t scare batsmen anymore, there will still be plenty of movement early on.
While there may be a passing shower or two, rain shouldn’t have too much of a say in the Test match.
Stats and trivia
- Mitchell Starc averages 19.23 in day-night Test cricket, with a strike rate of 35.6. He has 42 wickets – 17% of his overall tally – from seven matches and is a clear and present danger to anyone with a bat in hand.
- India will look to R Ashwin to keep things tight and give their quick bowlers a rest, so that when they bowl, they do so with nothing holding them back. The offspinner hasn’t always been great in Australian conditions – he averages 48 and has a strike rate of 94 – but has mastered the ability to beat batsmen in the air and no longer relies on help from the pitch. We may see a much improved bowler on this tour.
- While Australia will be playing their eighth day-night Test – and they’ve never lost one of these things – India will be playing only their second having only been introduced to the format last year.
“The pace of the red ball stays the same throughout the day. With the pink ball, the pace changes completely in those 40-50 minutes. Of course, the new ball moves a little for a while, but it gets easy to bat after that. Then the twilight period can be challenging because the pace of the ball increases. Both off the wicket and in the air.”
India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane lays out the challenge awaiting the batsmen
“We certainly don’t go into it planning to have run-ins or be overly aggressive. As we all know, at times on cricket fields, things can be a little bit willing. If that is the case, then there’s no doubt that this team will not be taking a backward step. And when he leaves, we know the talent they’ve got all the way down their list.”
Tim Paine on handling India with and without Virat Kohli
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo