The footy season is reaching its peak and the cricket season is just underway. The fortunate few amongst us can ignore the cricket, for the time being, as our teams are still in the race for grand final glory.
Soon enough, however, summer sport will take centre stage. Australian cricket fans tend to have a certain smugness at this time of year. Glenn McGrath normally forecasts clean sweeps and we look forward to sitting back and watching Steve Smith take apart bowling attacks from various parts of the world.
Not this cricket season. For the first cricket season in a while, cricket fans will have an uneasy feeling in their stomach, perhaps even dread. Focus will clearly be on the Test series versus India, who will be arriving on our shores after an entertaining, yet ultimately disappointing, series against England.
Yet, this uneasy feeling is unfounded. I think Australia will win the series against India, and here’s why.
The Test series will be played in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Adelaide will be a day Test, much to the Indian administrators’ delight, and the Western Australian Test will be at the new Perth Stadium.
Perth Stadium is still an unknown, yet Melbourne and Sydney pitches yielded plenty of runs last season, as did day sessions in Adelaide. The pressure will firmly be on the bowling attacks to take 20 wickets and Australia’s attack, if full strength, can do the job. The hosts’ batting line-up may be better than most believe.
Let’s check out the bowling first.
In Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood, Australia probably have the best pace attack in the world in Australian conditions.
Indian batting orders are traditionally more susceptible to pace, so the burden will be on these three to take the majority of wickets. Nathan Lyon had a terrific Ashes series last summer, but I wouldn’t tip him to be quite so successful against India.
Virat Kohli will, of course, be key. He scored four centuries on his last tour of Australia and a repeat would likely tilt the series in India’s favour. However, his most recent form against Australia is poor, with all three pacemen taking his wicket in India.
There is a question mark on this if any of the pace trio get injured. We may find out more on the upcoming UAE tour but Australia would love to have a fit Billy Stanlake as a back-up. He will need to get through a few Shield games to give selectors enough confidence to pick him if required.
Tim Paine will keep the gloves and the captaincy. He will need to score runs however as Alex Carey can’t be far away from Test selection.
It is the batting order where most of the dread originates from. Losing Steve Smith and David Warner is massive and the selectors had shown a lot of faith in Cameron Bancroft despite a mixed start to his career. These are all big gaps to fill.
I think the batting order in Adelaide will look something like this: Matt Renshaw, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood, Nathan Lyon.
Labuschange, Head and Khawaja are coming off a good India A tour. A broken finger ended Renshaw’s county season but prior to that he was in tremendous form. The Marsh brothers, as unlikely as it would have sounded 12 months ago, are certainties.
Can this order do the job? Much will depend on the Queensland opening pair getting good starts. If they can, Australia have enough stroke players further down the order to post scores.
Labuschagne was the second highest run-scorer in Shield cricket last year and has earnt his spot. Renshaw was arguably unlucky to be dropped in the first place and will be determined to make amends. I’ve got a feeling we are about to be surprised.
The other factor in this is that whoever is picked in this top six will know that, early 2019, three batsmen will be coming back into the team with an eye on the Ashes tour. The competition for spots will be intense and runs over this summer in the Test arena will be crucial.
So, while Australia will be down some key players this summer, there is sufficient class in that line-up to beat India on home soil. Who knows, the opportunity to blood some new Test batsmen may have some dividends for the future of Australian cricket.