Dubai: One team has one of its star players sidelined with an ankle injury, and he’ll miss the first test beginning Thursday at the Adelaide Oval. The other has had upsetting publicity it could never have imagined with the brother of one of its opening batsmen charged with a terrorism-related offense.
An Australia-India test series never seems to disappoint cricket fans looking for as much news off the field as on.
On Tuesday, the brother of Australia batsman Usman Khawaja was taken into custody by counter-terrorism police investigating the discovery in August of a laptop computer containing a fake terrorist hit-list.
Arsalan Khawaja, 39, was arrested while driving in western Sydney, according to a spokesperson for New South Wales state police. Australian media, quoting police sources, said Arsalan Khawaja was being questioned about forgery and an attempt to pervert justice, but had never intended to commit a terrorism offense. He was later released on bail.
“It’s a matter for the police to deal with,” Usman Khawaja said after training on Tuesday. “Out of respect for the process it’d be inappropriate for me to make any further comments. I just ask you to please respect my privacy and my family’s privacy during this time.”
The 31-year-old Khawaja has played 35 tests and is critical to the top order in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, who have both been banned for 12 months following the ball-tampering scandal at Cape Town, South Africa, in March.
India, meanwhile, will go into the start of the four-test series without 19-year-old Prithvi Shaw, who sustained a left ankle injury in a warm-up match last Friday at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Shaw rolled his ankle in the outfield during his India’s tour match against a Cricket Australia XI.
The loss of Shaw won’t help India as it tries to win a test series in Australia for the first time. And most of the previous series have history.
Past issues between the teams prompted one website to chronicle the “13 Ugliest India-Australia Controversies.”
The India Today website included photos of India captain Virat Kohli making an obscene gesture to the Sydney Cricket Ground crowd in 2012.
There were accusations in 2008 by then India captain Anil Kumble that “only one team was playing in the spirit of the game.”
The bilateral relationship eroded in that series when an Australian player said he was racially vilified by an India player during a test match in Sydney.
The India player was banned for three tests by the match referee, but the ban was overturned on appeal and amid rumors that India planned to boycott the rest of the tour.
There was tension well before that, with legpsinner bowler Shane Warne adding some spice with a comment during a 1998 tour to India that he had to pack baked beans and tinned spaghetti because he wasn’t able to handle Indian food.
The last time the teams played in Australia in 2014-15, the home side won 2-0 in four tests.
India’s last of only three test-match wins in Australia came at the WACA in Perth in 2008, when India prevailed by 72 runs.
Kohli said the series should be played in better spirits compared with recent Border-Gavaskar contests, but expected there would be some banter between the sides.
“I don’t think any Australian side is vulnerable at home,” Kohli said, suggesting the loss of several of its top players will not affect Australia. “Whatever happened (in Cape Town) … the skill level is still there. We’re definitely not taking anything for granted.”
The key for India will again be Kohli, who averages 62 from eight tests in Australia, the best effort by any Indian player to have taken part in more than three tests here. He also has three test centuries at Adelaide Oval.
Murali Vijay, whose test average in Australia is 60.25, and Ajinkya Rahane, averaging 57 here, are also expected to be big threats to the home side.
On Wednesday, Australia dropped vice-captain Mitch Marsh for the first test, recalled batsman Peter Handscomb and selected opener Marcus Harris to make his debut.
India named a 12-man squad Wednesday and will wait until before the toss to decide whether Rohit Sharma or Hanuma Vihari will claim the final spot in their batting order.
Temperatures are forecast to reach 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) in Adelaide for the first day.
Australia: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
India (one to be omitted): Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, K.L. Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah. (AP)