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38th over: Australia 85-4 (Smith 25, Handscomb 0) This will be a huge test for Peter Handscomb who is facing his first ball as a Test player in four years…. and it’s a hat-trick ball from Jadeja. But the 31-year-old he’s a noted player of spin with two centuries from his 17 Tests and he survives the over.

37th over: Australia 85-4 (Smith 25, Handscomb 0) India are back on top! Australia cruised into the break but again they have been set on their heels early in the session, this time by two fantastic Jadeja deliveries in two balls. We spoke before the break that one wicket might expose the Australian lineup and the prediction has borne fruit. Labuschagne gone, then Renshaw. Trouble for the visitors!

WICKET! Renshaw LBW Jadeja 0 (Australia 84-4)

The review is unsuccessful and Matt Renshaw is gone for a golden duck! That was a terrifying ball to get first up but the Queenslander committed too soon, lunged too far and tried to play it around the corner but didn’t get his bat to it at all. Instead it banged into his front pad and the Indians went up as one. Out!

36th over: Australia 84-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 49) Matthew Renshaw comes in… but may be out! Huge appeal for a Jadeja ball that shot though and caught him in front. The umpire’s decision is out but the Australians will review. This will be close…

WICKET! Labuschagne stumped Jadeja 49

Great bowling! Great wicketkeeping! Labuschagne was looking for his half-century and he lunged forward at a ball that dropped short. It fizzed past the outside edge and the heel of the batter went up in shock. That’s when the bails were whipped off and Marnus began his familiar slow trudge to the pavilion.

KS Bharat celebrates his stumping. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

35th over: Australia 84-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 49) Jedeja to Labuschagne has been a good duel all day. Both are tough customers and have fought hard to make their path in Test cricket. Jadeja overcame a rugged childhood in Jamnagar was banned by the IPL for a year for essentially trying to negotiate his salary. He will have Marnus hopping here…

35th over: Australia 84-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 49) Labuschagne moves to 49 with a well run single to midwicket from Shami. The Bengali champion is bowling full and fast but the movement he found early has proven elusive since. This is his seventh over but he’s still tickling 140kph and he hasn’t let the run-rate slip past 2.5 all innings.

34th over: Australia 83-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 48) With 0-14 from his nine overs so far, Jadeja has been tight but toothless. Let’s see what he can summon from the Nagpur pitch in this over. Not much. He’s trying for flight but the batters are a blur of fancy footwork and they step out and take a single.

33rd over: Australia 81-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 47) It will be Mohammad Shami to resume and he’s bowling to Smith who announces his post-lunch intent by hooking the second delivery, a bouncer that got to chest-height, to the boundary. Clearly Smudge got his toastie right during the break! (Unlike Marnus who has the bizarre habit of putting his hot sambo in the fridge to eat later). Anyway, there’s an appeal on the third as Labuschagne misses a ball on his hip. Replays show it was missing leg but not by much. Interesting start to what should be a pivotal session of the Test and series.

We’re back. How was your break? I took the greyhound for a walk (not a euphemism) and reminded my teenage dirtbag son that a Cheese Toastie Breville requires a slice of bread on top as well as one on top. Happy daze!

Mostly though, I read about the reverberations Travis Head’s axing has had. Despite clattering 525 runs at an average of 87.50 against the West Indies and South Africa in the home summer, the 29-year-old has paid the price for a 21.30 average from his seven Tests on the subcontinent. Tough call, I reckon. He’s a much better batter than he was back then and a more-than-handy spinner.

Former Australian captain Steve Waugh agreed, quipping on Instagram: “Hard to believe we can drop the No.4 ranked Test batsman in the world and probably our best batsman in the last 12 months plus he bowls better than average off spin – let’s wait and see – maybe the Aussie selectors are geniuses!”

Commentator Harsha Bhogle said: “Very interesting selection from Australia. Travis Head? I know he js a lefthander but I thought he was the right package with his off-spin. I would have thought a tall left arm spinner who bats would be perfect.”

Even Matthew Hayden was left “speechless”, saying: “I can’t believe it. For me, he was the player of the summer. Totally different conditions to Brisbane I know, but his 90 there was so good. He made it look flat even though it wasn’t, it was a raging green-top.”

But enough about that, let’s get back to the cricket…

LUNCH: Australia 76-2 (Smith 19, Labuschagne 47)

Well that was a lively first session! India had Australia reeling by blasting out Australia’s openers Khawaja and Warner within two overs but the visitors have steadied well since, with the Smith-Labuschagne partnership now 74 and Australia moving comfortably to 76-2. Virat Kohli’s lunch may taste a tad bitter after dropping Smith in Jadeja’s second over. However, the home side will know that one more wicket exposes Australia’s soft underbelly: a relatively inexperienced middle-order surprisingly missing its in-form aggressor in Travis Head. We’ll be back soon after a bite to eat and bit of neck oil. See you then.

32nd over: Australia 76-2 (Smith 19, Labuschagne 47) Axar Patel is into his eighth over and has given away only ten runs… but he hasn’t secured a breakthrough yet either. India would dearly love one in this over, likely the last before lunch. But Smith bunts away the first four balls and runs a single from the fifth to survive. That will be lunch.

31st over: Australia 75-2 (Smith 18, Labuschagne 47) Much needed maiden from Jadeja. India need to apply the brakes here. Captain Rohit Sharma is shining his sunnies with a frequency speaks more of panic than cleanliness.

30th over: Australia 75-2 (Smith 18, Labuschagne 47) Great shot Labuschagne! He went left initially and Ashwin followed him, bending the ball back at him. But with nimble feet and a firm bottom hand he cut inside the line and drove it on the offside for three. Lovely control and supreme confidence by Marnus. And he doubles down on the fourth delivery, moving to sweep but instead gently helping the ball over his left shoulder for another boundary. Two fours from the over, Labuschagne racing to 50 and Australia taking control of this Test.

29th over: Australia 69-2 (Smith 17, Labuschagne 39) Weighed, measured, punished! Jadeja tossed up his first ball and Labuschagne leaned into the drive and rolled his wrists over it sending it fizzing between the two men in the onside and into the boundary rope. Good batting from the Queenslander who takes a single from the next to get within a run of his forties.

28th over: Australia 61-2 (Smith 17, Labuschagne 34) Built like a bear but cunning as a fox, Ashwin will have been encouraged by Jadeja’s big turner in the last over. Can the 88 Test veteran – who took 21 wickets against Australia in four Tests in the 2016-17 series – unlock the same demonic bounce in his fourth over. He’s happy to give away a couple of singles as he searches for it.

27th over: Australia 59-2 (Smith 16, Labuschagne 33) Turn and bounce from Jadeja! That landed on middle and ripped half-a-metre outside off stump. It raised the eyebrows of Labuschagne and the excitement of captain Sharma. He saunters down for a chat with his bowler. What are they cooking up?

26th over: Australia 57-2 (Smith 16, Labuschagne 33) Ashwin lopes in for his third, nonchalant as a Nagpur cab driver on smoko. But there’s more to Ashwin than meets the eye: in his first 16 Tests he collected nine five-fors, and he was the fastest man in cricket history to 300 wickets and the second fastest to 400, behind only Muthiah Muralidaran. He leaks a single to each batter here though.

25th over: Australia 57-2 (Smith 15, Labuschagne 32) Front foot, back foot. Both Australian batters are moving around their crease like Fred and Ginger, skipping lightly to meet the bounce and smother the spin. They won’t be rushed either, as Jadeja earns another maiden.

24th over: Australia 57-2 (Smith 15, Labuschagne 32) Still with spin but Australia keep things moving, rotating the strike with three singles. Honours even.

23rd over: Australia 54-2 (Smith 14, Labuschagne 30) The Australian fifty is up but it’s taken 23 overs to achieve it. India still have the upper hand but this partnership is growing in confidence and that will worry them. That final ball from Ashwin sent a message though – it landed with a thud, raising dust and jumped at Labuschagne shoulder height. That little ripper will put wind in Indian sails!

22nd over: Australia 50-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 30) Bowling change. Sharma calls in Ravichandran Ashwin, the 36-year-old allrounder from Chennai. He loops a couple in from a high right hand that learned its trade on the streets by tweaking a tennis-ball. There he mastered the soduku, a finger-flicked legbreak, and took it to Test cricket where it’s earned him 449 wickets from 88 Tests. Labuschagne dabs them back politely for a maiden then reports what he saw to Smith.

Rohit Sharma speaks with Virat Kohli.
Rohit Sharma speaks with Virat Kohli. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

21st over: Australia 48-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 28) That was close! The final ball of Jadeja’s fourth over spat and struck like a cobra, but it fizzed past Steve Smith’s blade without taking the varnish. The batter is unperturbed and returns to his routine of a thousand fidgets before flashing Labuschagne a nod and wink. A maiden.

20th over: Australia 48-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 28) Fantastic shot by Labuschagne! He waited, watched and pounced when Patel put it in the fun zone, clobbering it along the ground and into the fence pickets. His strike rate has crept from 30 to 40 in the past five minutes, a clear sign his eye is in.

19th over: Australia 44-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 24) This partnership is up to 42 now from 99 balls and it’s gaining momentum but Smith is happy to see out a maiden from Jadeja and reset as we approach the 20 over mark. With no Cameron Green, the reborn rookies Peter Handscombe and Matthew Renshaw to come next and a longer tail than usual for Australia, this partnership is vital.

18th over: Australia 44-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 24) Here comes Patel, a slower action to Jadeja but all the venom comes from that final flick of the wrists. After beating Labuschagne with a couple he pushes one wider and the batter takes it on pushing the paws to meet it and send it sliding past fine leg for another boundary.

17th over: Australia 40-2 (Smith 10, Labuschagne 20) Jadeja to Smith. Will the Australians try to salt the wound of that dropped catch by attacking here? They do. Smith swats against the spin and, although it gets air, it clears the infield and runs away. Australia have broken the deadlock now and the pace is quickening. How will India respond?

16th over: Australia 35-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 19) Dropped catch! Smith tried to drive Patel but the ball was wide and it caught a thick edge which first slip flinched at and ultimately missed. Bad miss by India, their first mistake of the Test. To compound the pain the last ball jumps past Smith… and the keeper and runs away for two byes.

Steve Smith under pressure.
Steve Smith under pressure. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

15th over: Australia 33-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 19) Shami returns and so does the Australian stalemate. Both batters are striking under 30 at present, restricted by tight lines from the India seamers and good fielding settings from Sharma. But just when the screws start turning on Labuschagne he uncoils something amazing: this time it’s a lofty off-drive that rockets to the rope. Great shot!

14th over: Australia 29-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 15) Smith and Labuschagne average 64 together and if 220 is par on this Nagpur pitch, as Ravi Shastri believes, they are slowly on their way. The pitch has kept low so far and shown bounce for the seamers but the spinners have so far failed to awaken any devilry from its dust. Australia block out six straight deliveries from Patel as they try to make hay in what will probably be the most favourable conditions of the Test.

13th over: Australia 29-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 15) Siraj gets a spell and Shami returns. Australians will recall the veteran India quick from the 2015 World Cup played down under, where he led his side to the semi-finals despite playing the tournament, and the Test series prior, with a thoroughly bung knee. He’s since become a master of pace, accuracy and moving the ball both ways, be it a fresh cherry or a rough nut 80 overs old. Labuschagne pays Shami due respect, blocking out another over as the Australians fight their way to drinks.

12th over: Australia 29-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 15) Big swing by Marnus! Big miss by Marnus! The Australian first drop stepped down to Patel’s first delivery and tried to put it into downtown traffic but caught only air. It draws a wry smile from his nemesis and a stern bark of sobering advice from Steve Smith at the non-strikers end. They take a single from the last to keep things ticking over.

11th over: Australia 27-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 14) Siraj steams in for a fifth over, this one to Labuschagne who has now faced twice as many balls as Smith. He is well oiled now, and regularly nudging up to and over 140km/h. The Australian batters are content to see out another runless over as they rebuild this innings.

Mohammed Siraj gets some pace up.
Mohammed Siraj gets some pace up. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

10th over: Australia 27-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 14) Labuschagne drives on the up to Axar’s first ball and there’s a yelp from the close in fielders but it bounces before hitting hands. Patel is 29-years-old and has only played eight Tests but his 47 wickets at 16 have generated plenty of excitement. Labuschagne has seen the stats too. He wants more of a look at the leftie and a single is sufficient from this 10th over.

9th over: Australia 26-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 13) Siraj returns now to Smith as Jadeja’s cameo is unveiled as a tactic to give the paceman a whirl from the other end. All the talk before the Test has been of spin but it’s been speed that has done the damage in this first session, the seamers Siraj and Shami striking early. The Indian bowlers have hit hard lengths and found bounce, aiming for the top of off stump and the two senior Australian openers were both undone by quicker balls they couldn’t even get a bat on. Siraj bowls another maiden.

8th over: Australia 26-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 13) We will have twin spin here as Axar Patel takes the ball to Labuschagne who is watchful and happy to look the new bowler over. He plays out a maiden.

7th over: Australia 26-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 13) Come in spinner! It’ll be Ravindra Jadeja bowling the seventh over of the day. He’s 34 years young, with 60 Tests and 242 wickets to his name and his first ball challenges the outside edge of Marnus Labuschagne straight away. With that cowlick of hair over his sunnies the left-hander wheels in quickly and quietly. Jadeja is no slouch in the spin stakes. He was the quickest left-arm bowler to reach 200 Test wickets and the first Indian since Anil Kumble in 1993 to top the ICC ODI bowling rankings.

6th over: Australia 25-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 13) Soft hands to the first delivery by Marnus and he gets the luck he so often does, skewing Siraj’s first ball off the edge, through slips and into the fence. That gets Marnus to double figures after a breathless start to this Test match – two wickets in two overs and both Australian openers cooling their heels in the sheds. He’s more watchful to the next two which are straight. Neither batter is trusting the bounce here. However Smith swipes at the fifth ball and pulls it just short of a fielder. Bit lucky there, Smudge! He pulls his head in on the last and lets it drop at his feet.

Labuschagne focuses at the crease.
Labuschagne focuses at the crease. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

5th over: Australia 20-2 (Smith 6, Labuschagne 8) Here’s Shami again, charging through that familiar subcontinental haze of smoke, smog and tropical heat. Smith gets himself off the mark with a flashy clip off the toes. He’s never one to be pinned down but he’ll be looking for the ball that nips back similar to that which undid Khawaja. Smith leans into the third ball and drives it to the rope. Lovely shot that and a warning for India not to lose themselves in early rapture. Speaking of which, Labuschagne isn’t ‘playing and kissing’ (as one might at one of Nagpur’s blue light discos) but ‘playing and missing’ – forgive the typo, folks!

4th over: Australia 14-2 (Smith 0, Labuschagne 8) Both these batters average over 60 so the Australian comeback is in good hands. But Shami and Siraj are running in hard with a huge Nagpur crowd behind them. But facing Siraj now, Labuschagne gets up and running regardless, first with a driven half volley for four and then with an edgey shot that also reaches the boundary, between the slips and gully.

3rd over: Australia 6-2 (Smith 0, Labuschagne 0) Even two wickets down after three overs, the names Smith and Labuschagne inspire confidence. The tourists pick up four byes on Smith’s first ball, down the leg side and beyond the diving Bharat.

WICKET! Warner b Shami 1 (Australia 2-2)

It’s lightning fast and full from Shami and it’s straight through Warner! The veteran opener was caught on the crease, slow to move and the gap was there. Now he is trudging back to the pavilion with his head down and his off stump cartwheeling into the Nagpur haze. It will be Steve Smith with a rescue mission on his hands after just 13 balls of the innings.

Mohammed Shami celebrates taking the prize wicket of Warner.
Mohammed Shami celebrates taking the prize wicket of Warner. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

2nd over: Australia 2-1 (Warner 1, Labuschagne 0) Siraj has his tail up here and is getting great shape on the ball. We now have a left-right combination at the crease with Warner and Labuschagne. Siraj finishes with a wicket maiden.

WICKET! Khawaja lbw Siraj 1 (Australia 2-1)

That was bang on the money by Siraj. Khawaja played inside the line, missed it completely and replays showed it would’ve uprooted leg stump. Huge breakthrough for the home side.

Khawaja departs.
Khawaja departs. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

2nd over: Australia 2-0 (Warner 1, Khawaja 1) Huge appeal from Mohammed Siraj! The young firebrand’s first ball was fast an straight and it nipped in just a tad, thundering into Khawaja’s pad. We will have a review here – already!

1st over: Australia 2-0 (Warner 1, Khawaja 1) India open with right-arm paceman Mohammed Shami. His first ball of the series is wide and skids low. Warner fends the second into the off side for a single and we have our first run of the series. Khawaja joins his partner off the mark with a trademark clip off the hips.

We’re seeing a camera hover over the pitch and Brendon Julian on FoxSports has declared it “dodgy” a reiteration of the pitch-doctoring claims Ravi Shastri has labelled “bullshit”. Here come the teams onto the field for the anthems.

So, the full teams, starting with Australia:

Australia XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Todd Murphy, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland

— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) February 9, 2023

And the India XI:

India XI: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj

— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) February 9, 2023

As the players ready for action here’s Geoff Lemon’s Test preview.

Team news

A major shock is that Travis Head has been left out of the Test XI and Peter Handscomb will return to the middle-order alongside Matthew Renshaw. Be interesting to find out why Head, very much in form and a notable aggressor, has been sidelined.

There was much talk in the lead up to this series about Head’s disappointing record on the subcontinent and his plan to combat it with the all-out aggression so successful in the home summer. He averaged just 15.16 across five Tests in the recent tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka with his weakness against the turning ball the main point of concern. Of his six dismissals on those tours, Head fell victim to spin five times, departing for less than 25 every time. Now it seems he has paid the ultimate price for a strike rate of 47.65 in Asia, dropped to make way for once-discarded Test batters Renshaw and Handscomb.

Australia win the toss and elect to bat first

That was a big toss to win and Pat Cummins’ run of luck with the coin has continued. He will now get to set the tempo of the Test and give India a big total to chase in the last innings.

Todd Murphy handed Australian debut

Todd Murphy’s debut has stolen the headlines in Australia but in India the hullabaloo is all about selectors handing a Test debut to T20 phenomenon, Suryakumar Yadav. “Sky” has become a people’s hero with his six-hitting in the white ball formats and after 79 first-class matches he will finally gets to pull on the Test shirt for India at the ripe old age of 32. It’s a clear sign the hosts are going to amp the aggression with both bat and ball. Here’s the coin toss…

Todd Murphy and his family after he was presented with his baggy green.
Todd Murphy and his family after he was presented with his baggy green. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Preamble

Greetings cricket fans and welcome to the ‘Orange City’ of Nagpur for this first Test between Australia and India in the Border-Gavaskar series. I’m Angus Fontaine and I’ll be your host for the next five hours of action.

There’s a proud history between these cricket-loving nations. They first clashed in 1947 when the newly independent India faced Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ in Australia, a series the home side won easily. Australia dominated the next 30 years before India wrested ascendency, winning 10 of the next 20 series. As of today, the ledger stands at 43 wins for Australia, 30 for India, with 23 draws and of course a single tie, the memorable thriller in Madras in 1986.

Yet few of those 102 Tests have carried the intrigue this one has. The Indian curators have sparked outrage (but not surprise) around the cricket world with pitch preparations at VCA Stadium. Knowing the Australian squad is stacked with left-handers, footage has shown them watering and rolling the centre of the wicket but leaving the ‘corridors of uncertainty’ for the lefties bone dry and ripe for spin.

But if Australia captain Pat Cummins is worried, he’s not showing it. Instead, he’s urging his men to “embrace the chaos” of the subcontinent. Of Australia’s 18 tourists, only eight have played a Test here, although a few others have tasted the unique heat, dust, noise and clamour of Indian cricket via the IPL.

We know Cummins is without his injured pace stalwarts Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc and allrounder Cameron Green. It opens the door for cult hero Scott Boland to play his first Test outside Australia and right-handed No 6 Peter Handscomb to usurp Matt Renshaw and play his first Test since India in 2019.

But the loudest buzz is that 22-year-old Victorian bolter Todd Murphy will make a shock debut after just seven first-class games. Selected to partner Nathan Lyon, Murphy becomes part of the first frontline off-spinning duo for Australia since 1988 when Peter Taylor and Tim May played in Pakistan. Can he match the epic debut of fellow offie Jason Krejza, who notched the crazy figures of 12 for 358, when Australia last played at the VCA in Nagpur in 2008?

Australia reportedly settled on their side two days ago (Murphy’s parents have flown in from Echuca). Captain Cummins and Sharma will toss the coin shortly and the playing XIs be unveiled…




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