The last time India played a Test match against Australia was in February 2006 at Adelaide. While the current India skipper and then youngster Mithali Raj did not have a memorable outing, Jhulan Goswami starred with the ball for India, taking four for 43 in 24 overs. Almost fifteen years later, India will be taking on the hosts in the longer format again, this time in a day-night encounter.
The hosts, Australia, have some injuries to deal with. Rachael Haynes is ruled out of the rest of the series due to a hamstring injury, and Georgia Wareham's availability is yet to be confirmed. Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen had opted out of the series since the beginning, and just before the ODIs, Tayla Vlaeminck had injured herself and was out of the 50-over and red-ball formats.
The only experienced seamer in their bowling attack is Ellyse Perry, who had a forgettable ODI series with the ball. The 30-year-old had just started bowling, having recovered from a hamstring injury she picked up during the T20 World Cup last year. In the last and only day-night Test they had played, Perry scored a double hundred and took three wickets.
Though Perry did not take any wickets and operated at an economy of 7.35 in the ODIs against India, Australia head coach Matthew Mott seemed confident that the allrounder would come good in the longer format. "It's more about bowling to the left-handers. I think she has been bowling pretty well to the right-handers. She is swinging the ball, and there's a lot of like about it. In a Test match, you should be able to get in some big spells. She swings the ball up front. I think she is really looking forward to the change of format," he said.
With Perry taking up the new-ball duties from one end, Darcie Brown is likely to make her debut. The 18-year-old has had an impressive 12 months after a groundbreaking WBBL season. Mott hinted at Brown playing in the Test match once Vlaeminck was ruled out, and it is only fair to say that the speedster had made the most out of the chances she got in the ODIs.
While Stella Campbell and Hannah Darlington are there in the Test squad, only one of them might play as the third seamer. The hosts are likely to play two allrounders in Annabel Sutherland and Tahlia McGrath in the middle-order.
Sophie Molineux seems to be the first-choice spinner, with Wareham still recovering from injury. Perhaps only one of them could play, with Ashleigh Gardner playing the supportive role. Barring Perry, the seam attack seem inexperienced. However, the conditions at the Carrara Oval might be in favour of them.
In the batting department, Haynes' absence could open doors for Queensland batter Georgia Redmayne. Who could open with Alyssa Healy could be anybody's guess. It could be a long line-up with the presence of the allrounders, including Gardner.
For India, a large part of their batting line-up picks themselves. Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma to open, Raj at four, Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana in the lower middle-order, followed by a seam-bowling allrounder in Pooja Vastrakar. Taniya Bhatia, who had a brilliant debut behind the stumps and with the bat in the second innings in England, is likely to take over the wicket-keeping duties from Richa Ghosh.
A lot rides on the fitness of Harmanpreet Kaur, who hasn't played a single match on this tour so far. If Kaur isn't fit, India might want to go with the experienced Punam Raut at three and one of Yastika Bhatia and Jemimah Rodrigues at five. And if Kaur is playing, Raj could play Bhatia in place of Raut, who has had a promising start in the ODIs, at three.
India played two off-spinners and three seamers in their last Test match against England at Bristol earlier in June. However, it seems unlikely that they will go with the same strategy in a day-night Test against Australia. If India are playing three spinners, Rajeshwari Gayakwad will be the third to add a variety to that bowling attack.
It also means only either Shikha Pandey or Meghna Singh could share the new ball with Goswami. However, it will be interesting to see if the tourists are ready to take the gamble by fielding four seamers as they did in 2014 and play Pandey, Vastrakar, Goswami and Meghna Singh.
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Either way, a lot will be riding on the pitch, which Motts believes to have a fair bit of grass on it to assist the pacers. It means any team that wins a toss will have a huge advantage over the other, getting the opportunity to bowl under lights on day one. With both Lanning and Raj's record at winning tosses not great, it is going to be fun to find out who is lucky at the Carrara Oval on Thursday (September 30).
India skipper Mithali Raj said in the pre-match press conference that the team had their first-ever pink-ball practice session on Tuesday (September 28). However, after a fighting stalemate against England in the Test, they should be confident of putting up a good show against the Aussies. Against what seems to be one of the most inexperienced Australian pace attacks, can Raj and Co. put up another inspirational effort come Thursday?
Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham
India: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Ekta Bisht