The Test batting pair of Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari, along with a majority of the Indian coaching staff, are scheduled to fly out to Dubai on October 25 as the first leg of their travel schedule for the tour of Australia. ESPNcricnfo understands that India head coach Ravi Shastri is expected to join this group in Dubai a day later, on October 26.
The final itinerary for the series is yet to be made public formally by Cricket Australia, though it has been announced that the white-ball leg comprising three T20Is and three ODIs will kick things off, and the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will follow – the first Test will be a day-nighter played with a pink ball in Adelaide from December 17.
Incidentally, the Indian selection panel, led by former India spinner Sunil Joshi, is yet to pick the squads for the tour. It is understood that the selectors did not want to finalise the squads without a final approval from the BCCI to the CA schedule. The selectors, though, are understood to have already had informal discussions and are expected to meet early next week to finalise the three squads.
Pujara and Vihari are the only two first-choice Test specialists not to feature in the IPL 2020, currently taking place in the UAE. The pair will link up with a bigger group, which is expected to have a minimum of 30 players [for all the formats], that will head to Australia a day after the IPL final on November 10.
This group will not be part of the IPL bubble and will be staying separately. But they will need to adhere to the same standard operating procedures put in place for teams in the IPL, including the six-day quarantine and multiple tests.
Neither Pujara nor Vihari have played much cricket since returning from the New Zealand Test series in February. Despite the lack of practice, both players will travel to Australia with fond memories of the historic triumph in the 2018-19 series, which Virat Kohli’s India won 2-1 to become the first Asian side to achieve such a feat.
Pujara was the main architect of that series win with centuries in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, thus finishing as the Player of the Series. The danger he poses to the opposition was highlighted by Australian offspinner Nathan Lyon, who said Pujara “flies under the radar”. According to Lyon, Pujara was the “new wall”. “We’re going to have to make sure that come this summer we have to come with some new plans to combat Pujara,” Lyon said. “As I said, he flies under the radar a little bit – he definitely won’t he flying under the radar come this summer.”
Vihari, too, is no stranger to Australia. Having made a “nervous” debut at The Oval during the 2018 England tour, Vihari proved his mettle on the Australia tour later that year when he readily accepted the challenge to open in the Boxing Day Test, despite never having done so in his first-class career. Talking to Vihari’s opening partner Mayank Agarwal recently, Kohli said how impressed he had been by the Andhra batsman’s “brave” attitude to open.
Talking to The Cricket Monthly, Vihari said he was nervous again but excited. “It was a great opportunity for me, putting the hand up for the country and opening in a Boxing Day Test. It can’t get better.”
The Australia-India Test series is part of the inaugural cycle of the ICC’ World Test Championship which will culminate in the final in June. The ICC currently remains optimistic about the WTC final taking place, which will be contested between the top two teams on the points table. Currently, India and Australia occupy the top two slots having played four and three series respectively.