Usman Khawaja in action during a match. File
Playing against India behind closed doors in the much-anticipated test series at the end of the year might end up being an advantage for the home side, according to Australia batsman Usman Khawaja.
Cricket Australia are desperate for the tour, scheduled for December and January, to go ahead as the lucrative Indian TV rights for the series would go a long way to easing a financial crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
India have said their players would be prepared to spend two weeks in quarantine in Australia if that helped but social-distancing restrictions might still keep fans locked out of the grounds.
Khawaja, though, thinks that might not necessarily be a disadvantage for the home side given how much noise Australia’s significant South Asian community make when India tour Down Under.
“It’s definitely an advantage” he told Fox Sports News with a laugh on Saturday. “I remember the last time they came over for a one-day series, the roar for India was much bigger.
“Especially in Melbourne, the amount of expats they have over there, they flock in. And when India’s on top they really let you know it.
“It’s a really weird feeling. When you’re in India, you expect to be outnumbered massively but you can be outnumbered in Melbourne, as well as Sydney to some extent also.”
Led by Virat Kohli, India secured their first ever test series triumph on Australian soil the last time they toured in the 2018-19 season.
The home side were, however, missing their two best batsmen as they served bans for their part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, and Khawaja said he thought their return would make for a different series this year.
“They were clearly the better team last time, we hung in there but (Cheteshwar) Pujara was outstanding and Kohli led from the front as a captain,” he added.
“Their bowling unit was as good as I’ve ever seen an Indian bowling unit, they really went toe-to-toe with our bowlers.
“Our bowlers are still in great form, though, and this time Steve Smith and Davy Warner will be in the side too, so a little bit of difference in the batting line-up.”
Islamabad-born Khawaja played all four tests against India in 2018-19 but will need to force his way back into the test side this year after missing out on a national contract a couple of weeks ago.
Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli believes cricket will be robbed of its “magical moments” if games are forced into empty stadiums when the sport emerges from its pandemic lockdown.
“It might happen. I honestly don’t know how everyone’s going to be able to take that, because we are used to playing in front of so many passionate people,” said the star batsman.
“It will be played at a very good intensity, but that feel of the crowd connecting with the players, everyone feeling that tension around the stadium, those emotions are difficult to recreate,” he told the Star Sports television channel on Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic has halted all major sports and cricket is suffering without its cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) which should now be reaching its final stages.
“We will play the sport how it’s supposed to be played but those magical moments would be very difficult to come by,” Kohli said.
Some European football leagues are already making plans to restart in empty stadiums. But the IPL has not announced its intentions and there are now major doubts on whether the Twenty20 World Cup will start in Australia in October.
The International Cricket Council has said it is “exploring all options” for the tournament.
Australia’s wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey, who was to play for the Delhi Capitals in the IPL, said it would be a “hollow feeling” if games are played in front of empty stands.
“Cricket as we’re used to is going to be different for a bit. There’s the T20 World Cup and the IPL that we’re all looking to play, but it’s hard to picture anything without the fans,” Carey said in an instagram session with Delhi’s official website.
“It’s going to be a hollow feeling, but I feel the fans will at least have some live cricket to look forward to on TV.”
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Kohli will fly back home after the first Test, which gets under way on Dec.17, to be beside his expecting wife Anushka Sharma. The power couple is expecting their first child in January next year.
India is in top gear at the moment after the historic Test victory in Australia. Team India will look to continue the win streak when they meet England at home next month. Of course India will enjoy home advantage but to underestimate England’s prowess would we a grave error. For sure Kohli can’t take the series lightly after the heroics at the Gabba by the Ajinkya Rahane led side (“Buoyant India look to continue dominance in Tests at home against England,” Jan. 23, Gulf Today).
After restricting West Indies to a paltry total of 55, England chased down the target for the loss of just four wickets in 8.2 overs.
India and Pakistan are set to renew rivalry in a spine-tingling and the most anticipated clash of the T20 World Cup in Dubai on Sunday.
Namibia reached the Twenty20 World Cup second round for the first time on Friday when they defeated Ireland by eight wickets.World number 19 Namibia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, chased down their modest target of 126 with skipper Gerhard Erasmus making an unbeaten 53.