With a series sweep against a third-ranked Pakistani side secured, the future looks bright for the Australian cricket team as they look to develop a number of up-and-coming superstars.
However, despite the success of this young team since its embarrassing innings defeat to the hands of South Africa last November in Hobart, a number of questions still remain as Steve Smith leads his side to Test cricket’s most difficult task, a series against India in their own backyard.
So with the odds stacked heavily against them, I will look at which collection of players will give Australia the best possible chance of pulling off one of world cricket’s greatest upsets.
1. David Warner (vc), Tests played: 60, Average: 49.61, Average in India: 24.71
Among the best players in world cricket at the moment, David Warner has a pivotal role to play in this series as he looks to put previous sub-continental failures behind him and etch his name into cricket’s elite.
This summer has seen the left-handed opener at his absolute best with centuries at the MCG and SCG against Pakistan proving that if not dismissed early, Warner can take the game away from opposition sides in a matter of hours.
Along with his brutal form with the bat, Warner has also matured into role model within the side as he, along with Steve Smith, look to lead this new generation of Australian Cricket back to the number one Test ranking.
However, despite all of these recent successes, the sub-continent has always posed a challenge to the destructive opener with his average on Indian soil being only 24.71. Hence, this tour will without a doubt be career-defining for the Australian vice-captain as he looks to prove that he can perform on any given wicket at any given time.
2. Matthew Renshaw, Tests played: 4, Average: 63.00, Average in India: N/A
Prior to the Sydney Test I, along with many others, believed that Shaun Marsh was the man to open the innings alongside Warner in India tour due to his wealth of experience and excellent record on subcontinental wickets.
However, after watching his epic first innings century against Pakistan at the SCG, it became clear that despite his innocent youth and prevailing inexperience, Renshaw is the perfect batsmen to accompany Warner for not only this upcoming tour but for years to come.
Picked as a bolter for the third Test against South Africa, Renshaw has proven over the second half of the summer that he can easily fit in at Test level, with his patience and determination to not throw his wicket away being vital attributes for a successful Test career both in Australia and abroad.
3. Usman Khawaja, Tests played: 23, Average: 47.94, Average in India: N/A (Sri Lanka: 19.16)
Despite being around the Australian Test team for six years, Usman Khawaja has never played a Test in India, making this upcoming series career-defining for a number of reasons.
Having cemented his spot in Australia’s best XI following excellent series against New Zealand and the West Indies on home soil, Khawaja was quickly brought back down to earth as he was dropped after multiple failures against Sri Lanka in what was a tour to forget for the team.
Flawed for his inability to deal with the moving ball, Khawaja has a point to prove in India, as this series will without a doubt answer the question as to whether Khawaja is either a home ground bully or an elite Test cricketer.
4. Steve Smith (c), Tests played: 50, Average: 60.15, Average in India: 40.25
Without a doubt Australia’s best player and perhaps the best player in the world, there isn’t a lot the Australian captain has not already done in his 50-Test career. Having faced the adversity of poor performances against Sri Lanka and South Africa, Smith took it on the chin and like all champions gathered up his troops and rallied.
Now with four straight Test wins and a man of the series award against Pakistan, Smith could not be in a better state of mind to lead his team to world cricket’s toughest challenge.
Having been one of Australia’s shining lights in Sri Lanka (average of 41.16), Smith is a fantastic player of spin bowling and should use his unorthodox technique to pile on runs and relieve pressure from his inexperienced batting companions.
5. Peter Handscomb, Tests played: 4, Average: 99.75, Average in India: N/A
The revelation of the summer, young Victorian Peter Handscomb announced himself to the Test arena in stunning fashion having scored 399 runs in seven innings while only being dismissed on three occasions against South Africa and Pakistan.
With a world of weight now on his inexperienced shoulders, Handscomb faces one of the biggest challenges in any young cricketer’s career as the honeymoon period fades and the hardships of Test cricket set in.
Renowned as an excellent player of spin bowling, Indian conditions should suit the unorthodox right hander, thus making this upcoming series the perfect opportunity for him to prove himself as a rising star of world cricket.
Along with his ability to score mountains of runs, Handscomb is also able to take the gloves and be a more than serviceable wicketkeeper. However, moving forward I believe he should focus solely on his batting and leave the pressures of keeping up to a more experienced campaigner for this crucial series.
6. Travis Head, Tests played: 0, Average: N/A, Average in India: N/A
In what is without a doubt the most controversial position in the side, Travis Head is the right man to fill this position in this already young Australian cricket team. At only 23, Head has already achieved much in his short career, having become South Australia’s youngest captain and recently becoming a vital part of Australia’s one day team.
However, despite his success with the white ball, his red ball career has been somewhat challenging, having only hit four centuries with an average of just 34.77. These numbers would be enough evidence to overlook Head for a call up at Test level, however that he will provide the team with an X-Factor that could make a serious difference on the sub-continent this February.
Having already been introduced to the international stage at ODI level, Head has proven to be excellent at getting the side out of trouble with fighting middle order half-centuries against New Zealand in December playing a key role in the series whitewash. Head is also more than handy with the ball, with his off breaks claiming 21 first-class wickets and troubling international batsmen on the one day stage.
7. Peter Nevill (wk), Tests played: 17, Average: 22.28, Average in India: N/A
By far the most unlucky victim of Australian cricket’s rejuvenation in November last year, Peter Nevill lost his position in the side to Victorian Matthew Wade due to his capabilities with the bat.
However, looking forward to India and beyond it is clear that Nevill is the man that should take the gloves for Australia as, despite his mediocre batting average, he is the best glovesman in the land and will undoubtedly cope with the unpredictably of sub-continental wickets.
Along with his brilliance behind the wickets, Nevill’s batting is severely underrated as when given a chance to blossom he is more than capable of piling on runs as seen by his monster 179 not out against Tasmania in a Shield match following his axing from the Australian team.
At the age of 31, Nevill deserves one last opportunity to thrive at Test level and if given the opportunity should without a doubt provide the team with an immediate lift in both the field and with the bat.
8. Mitchell Starc, Tests played: 34, Bowling average: 28.29, Average in India: 100.00
The leader of Australia’s attack, Mitchell Starc has again risen to new heights this summer as he took 28 wickets over six Test matches against South Africa and Pakistan. With an unplayable yorker and incredible pace and bounce in his armoury, Starc will without a doubt cause problems for the Indian batsmen.
However, on wickets that will almost certainly not suit his style of bowling, this series will be a defining point in Starc’s career as he looks to cement his position as one of the world’s best bowlers. Along with his bowling prowess, Starc also possesses the ability to change the game with bat in hand as his hard hitting strikes fear into opposition bowling attacks.
9. Stephen O’Keefe, Tests played: four Bowling average: 32.78, Average in India: N/A
A true journeyman, Stephen O’Keefe has now got the opportunity to flourish at Test level as he looks to cement his position as Australia’s second spinner. Not a large turner of the ball, O’Keefe is renowned for his ability to hold up an end with his impeccable accuracy and drift.
The perfect partner for Nathan Lyon, O’Keefe has a large role to play in Australia’s success on Indian soil as he will without a doubt be called upon by Smith to bowl large amounts of overs in order to wear down opposition batsmen.
Along with his ability with the ball, O’Keefe also offers the side valuable lower innings runs in what is an extremely strong Australian tail.
10. Josh Hazlewood, Tests played: 26, Bowling average: 24.78, Average in India: N/A
The pick of the Australian bowlers over the summer, Josh Hazlewood has now announced himself as one of the best in world cricket. With an incredible average of 24.78 and economy of 2.83, Hazlewood truly is a captain’s dream as his unusual bounce and tricky line and length constantly troubles opposition batsmen.
Although he will most likely be bowling on pitches that will do fast bowlers no favours, Hazlewood’s patience and accuracy should still cause the Indian batsmen problems.
11. Nathan Lyon, Tests played: 63, Bowling average: 34.07, Average in India: 37.33
“Niiccee Garrrryy”. The man, the myth, the legend, this summer has been an interesting one for Australia’s premier off-spinner as a turbulent start led to the GOAT, as he is known, claiming cult status across Australia.
However, despite playing multiple Ashes series, this one looms as the most important of Lyon’s career as he looks to put behind his previous struggles and bowl his side to victory on wickets that will certainly suit him. At his best, Lyon is able to use his spin and bounce to tear through opposition batsmen in a way few around the world can.
However, inconsistency has plagued the right arm off-spinner throughout his career, making his performance one of Australia’s biggest questions ahead of this crucial series.
Having been poor on the sub-continent in recent series against Sri Lanka in 2016 and Pakistan in 2014, this series will be crucial to Lyon’s legacy as he enters the twilight of his career.
Remaining squad members: Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar, Adam Zampa