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Test regulars look to shake off rust as India begin auditions for best XI

Who will replace Ishant as the third seamer? Who fills in for Kohli once the captain leaves?

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
By the time India begin their second T20I on Sunday, their Test specialists will have played out the first day of their three-day warm-up match against Australia A at Drummoyne Oval. It is not ideal that some of the all-formats players will have to choose between the T20I and Test preparation, but these are unprecedented times because of the pandemic.
Going by the indications from the first T20I, Virat Kohli will almost certainly miss the first warm-up match. He will anyway not play a red-ball Test on this tour so it makes sense for him to play only the second warm-up fixture, which will be played with the pink ball. India could send one of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah to play the warm-up match and the other could play the T20 international at the SCG. KL Rahul will likely play the international although India do have a wicketkeeper-batsman in Sanju Samson should they want to send Rahul for some long-form practice.
Here is what to watch out for in the three-day fixture.
Audition for third seamer
The absence of Ishant Sharma is a bigger hole left in India's Test XI than the one Kohli will leave when he goes on paternity leave. Not only has Sharma himself been in sensational form over the last few years, the threat posed by Bumrah and Shami could be reduced significantly if Sharma's replacement keeps releasing the pressure. The three choices India have for the role are Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj. All three are likely to be in action against Australia A.
Pujara and Vihari get a hit
Through the pandemic, the biggest hit has been taken by Test specialists who don't get picked for the IPL. Cheteshwar Pujara last played competitive cricket in the second week of March, the Ranji Trophy final, and Hanuma Vihari last played the last Test in New Zealand in the first week of March. Both Pujara and Vihari had plans to play in the English County season but the pandemic put paid to that. They would have hoped for some Ranji Trophy cricket before traveling to Australia, but couldn't do that either. The two will be looking to get rid of ring rust over these three days.
Pant or Saha
Rishabh Pant was India's wicketkeeper in their last Test in Australia, and also their last away Test, in New Zealand. However, since then he has gone through a lean phase in IPL and might be low on confidence. This will be an opportunity for him to get rid of those jitters. Wriddhiman Saha injured both his hamstrings during the IPL, and this will be a chance for him to prove his fitness should he be required for the Tests.
Overs for Ashwin and Kuldeep
The concussion for Ravindra Jadeja seems to have put him out of contention for the first Test. He and Kuldeep Yadav were India's spinners in the last Test they played in Australia. Yadav then took a five-for in that match, in last January, but that also remains the last Test he played, losing his spot to the fingerspinners in home Tests. Yadav has never played a Test as the lone spinner, and India will not have reason to play two of them outside perhaps Sydney. So Yadav will have to show the team management something special in the tour game to make them consider him for the lone spinner's role.
R Ashwin has been India's first choice as the lone spinner on most of their recent away tours. However, he didn't look a 100% fit through the IPL. This is the chance for him to show he is back fully fit and get overs under his belt.
Other batting spots up for grab
Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw are India's incumbent openers, but they didn't have a great tour of New Zealand, putting together partnerships of 16, 27, 30 and 8. One of KL Rahul and Shubhman Gill will likely slot in when Kohli leaves, but the other one might even challenge one of these openers.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo