Test cricket returns to Australia for the first time since the ball-tampering debacle in South Africa, with India arriving for a huge four-match series starting at the Adelaide Oval.
Since the success of last summer’s Ashes thumping of England, Australian cricket has been on a rollercoaster ride, with most of it pointing downhill and back-to-front.
In short, it’s been a horrendous year for the men’s national team, who were dragged through the mud in South Africa on account of their own doing, then lost their captain, vice-captain and opening batsman.
From there, they struggled playing limited overs cricket in Zimbabwe, got embarrassed on a limited-overs tour to England and, despite a 1-0 series score, it might as well have been men against boys when they went to the United Arab Emirates for a two-match series against Pakistan.
The early signs against South Africa and India back at home aren’t great either in the short form stuff, but Tim Paine will try to turn his team around ahead of a four-Test series against Virat Kohli’s men, who potentially have their best ever chance at beating the Aussies down under.
India also lost a Test series in South Africa at the back end of last year and fell to England in a five-Test series away from home in the middle of 2018.
While those two series both resulted in losses, they smacked the West Indies around at home and it’s that series they will be aiming to take plenty of confidence out of on their trip to Australia.
Virat Kohli’s team will be primed and ready, having played pretty well at the Sydney Cricket Ground against an inexperienced Cricket Australia XI side in their only tour game.
However, they have an atrocious record in Australia. They have won just five matches in total out of 43 played down under, just one at the Adelaide Oval out of 11 and never won a series played away from home against the Aussies in 11 attempts.
They are truly horrific numbers, and it’s something India will have to fight against all summer in conditions which have done anything but suit them previously.
Overall head-to-head: Played 94, Australia 41, India 26, drawn 26, tied 1
Overall record in Australia: Played 43, Australia 28, India 5, drawn 11
Overall record at the Adelaide Oval: Played 11, Australia 7, India 1, drawn 3
Overall series: Played 25, Australia 12, India 8, drawn 5
Overall series in Australia: Played 11, Australia 8, India 0, drawn 3
Last five matches
March 25-28, 2017: India defeated Australia by 8 wickets at Dharamsala
March 16-20, 2017: Match drawn at Ranchi
March 4-7, 2017: India defeated Australia by 75 runs at Bengaluru
February 23-25, 2017: Australia defeated India by 333 runs at Pune
January 6-10, 2015: Match drawn at Sydney
Last five matches at the Adelaide Oval
December 9-13, 2014: Australia defeated India by 48 runs
January 24-28, 2012: Australia defeated India by 298 runs
January 23-28, 2008: Match drawn
December 12-16, 2003: India defeated Australia by 4 wickets
December 10-14, 1999: Australia defeat India by 285 runs
Last five series
2016-17: India defeated Australia 2-1 in India (four-match series)
2014-15: Australia defeated India in Australia 2-0 (four-match series)
2012-13: India defeated Australia 4-0 in India (four-match series)
2011-12: Australia defeated India 4-0 in Australia (four-match series)
2010:11: India defeated Australia 2-0 in India (two-match series)
1. Aaron Finch
2. Shaun Marsh
3. Usman Khawaja
4. Travis Head
5. Peter Handscomb
6. Mitchell Marsh (vc)
7. Tim Paine (c) (wk)
8. Mitchell Starc
9. Pat Cummins
10. Josh Hazlewood (vc)
11. Nathan Lyon
Rest of squad: Marcus Harris, Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain
1. Murali Vijay
2. KL Rahul
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
4. Virat Kohli (c)
5. Ajinkya Rahane (vc)
6. Hanuma Vihari
7. Rishabh Pant (wk)
8. Ravichandran Ashwin
9. Umesh Yadav
10. Mohammed Shami
11. Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Rest of squad: Prithvi Shaw (injured), Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah
The Australian squad had some surprises in it. After their disastrous tour of India, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris and Chris Tremain were all included in a 14-man outfit.
While the Aussie bowling attack picks itself with Nathan Lyon to be joined by the pace arsenal of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, the batting line-up is where the questions lie.
It all comes down to a fight for the final spot in the order between Marcus Harris and Peter Handscomb. Neither bowl, so it could well depend on who the selectors assess to be in the better form in the nets.
If Harris plays, expect him to open up the batting with Aaron Finch, dropping Shaun Marsh back to number four in the order and Travis Head to five.
I’d fully expect Handscomb to play though, given he is the better exponent of spin and has prior experience playing in the national colours.
Regardless of who plays, the aim for Australia must be to keep Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine at six and seven.
The big blow for the tourists coming into the first Test is the injury to Prithvi Shaw, who was ruled out of the first Test after doing his ankle playing in the tour game while fielding on the boundary.
His absence means Murali Vijay is the man likely to open up the innings alongside KL Rahul, with a very strong battling list featuring Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to follow.
From there, things are a little less straightforward. All signs point to Hanuma Vihari playing in the middle order ahead of Ravindra Jadeja or Rohit Sharma. He batted above Rohit in the tour game, and playing Jadeja would mean inexperienced wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant would have to bat at six.
Playing Vihari, who has been in decent form, would give them more batting depth which, frankly, is what you need in Australia. He will also provide some overs of part-time spin, although nothing on the level of Jadeja.
The two men with their spots locked into the bowling attack are Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravichandran Ashwin, who will also be required to add crucial runs at number eight.
The other two spots are less locked away, with Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma probably the two quicks likely to miss out as Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav take the final spots in the side.
Australia’s quicks must channel Glenn McGrath to get rid of Kohli
A lot has been made of how to get rid of the Indian captain, and it’s proven impossible at times. There can be almost no question that he is the best batsman in the world across all three formats.
Kohli has it all and the crowds flocking to see him bat are reminiscent of the Sachin Tendulkar days. He is in good form as well, with three centuries and two half-centuries from his last nine innings across all formats.
With a Test average of almost 55 and over 6,000 runs to his name, it’s not going to be an easy thing for the Aussie bowlers – no matter how good – to dismiss Kohli potentially eight times this summer.
What we do know about Kohli, however, is that he likes to score his runs quickly. His strike rate in Test cricket is approaching 60 and he finds the boundary once every 15 balls on average.
For that reason, it’s all about building pressure on Kohli. Don’t allow him to rotate strike and certainly don’t offer the width for him to find the fence.
In a similar way to how teams frustrated David Warner out at times, the Aussie bowlers must channel Glenn McGrath and hit the top of off time and time again to bog Kohli down, then hope he plays a silly shot or does something irrational with the odd tempter.
While tactics in cricket have evolved over the years, there is nothing more to getting Kohli out than bowling at the top of off stump and not letting up, no matter how long it takes. Patience is the key.
Can the Aussie attack do that? That’s the big question which remains to be answered.
Australia may not have enough runs in them, and for that reason, the bowling attack must dominate
From Usman Khawaja’s return from injury to the Marsh brothers international form woes and the questions over Peter Handscomb and Tim Paine, there are problems all over the place with the hosts’ top seven.
Australia may well disprove all those questions once the series gets going, but it’s enough to make you doubt whether they can keep their long-standing dominance of India alive for another summer.
Sure, there are going to be positive moments on flat tracks at times, but there are probably also going to be moments against bowlers of the talent of Ravi Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar where Australia get rolled.
And when that happens, the pressure is going to transfer to the bowling attack.
While the batting order was decimated by the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, the bowling attack was untouched and is still just about the best in the world.
Sure, some of their accuracy and tactics are sometimes off – hence the point above about bowling patiently to Kohli – but with Hazlewood leading the charge on that front, Lyon to tie down an end and the sheer pace of Cummins and Starc to bat him up, they have what it takes to keep Australia in games they would otherwise be out of.
India’s attack is good, but as so many attacks do, they may struggle in Aussie conditions where the length bowled can’t be too short, despite the added bounce on offer. The sooner they figure that out, the better, but even then, Australia’s attack is better on paper and used to these conditions.
Murali Vijay scored a century, but he wasn’t in the top XI for a reason
There is a reason Murali Vijay hasn’t been in the top XI for India. The 34-year-old’s form has been up and down at best, and the emergence of Prithvi Shaw looked like it had just about ended his career at Test level.
Vijay will be back though with Shaw out injured, and he belted a timely century against the CA XI in Sydney.
Despite that, scoring runs against a Cricket Australia side made up of inexperienced juniors and doing the same against the Australian attack will be on different levels.
Vijay needs to score runs though for India to be successful. Opening partnerships can build the platforms for big scores in Australia, seeing the shine off the new ball and turning it into a long hard slog for the bowlers.
The opening batsman only averages 39 in Test cricket, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either and while he scored some runs in England playing county cricket, he may struggle with the pace and bounce on Australian decks at the top of the order.
His wicket isn’t the key to the series, but it could set the ball rolling early on and bring Kohli to the crease far earlier than he wants if things go right for the hosts.
The Marsh brothers need to be where they were last summer
The Marsh brothers are both going to be in Australia’s starting XI, there is little question about that.
The questions lie surrounding their form though. Since the Ashes, the duo have been on a run of low scores in international cricket, with the tour of Pakistan all but a debacle.
Yet, it was just last summer when Shaun scored more runs than anyone in the Ashes with 687, while Mitch played excellently after being brought into the squad ahead of the third Test.
This is only a short point, because their form doesn’t warrant a big write-up, but they need to be in that sort of form again for Australia to flourish in this series. Two easy wickets in the top seven won’t cut it and while both have Sheffield centuries this summer, the pressure will ramp up on them if there is even so much as a hint of failure.
Ashwin has the weight of the world on his shoulders, so could India play Jadeja as well?
The biggest selection question for India, as highlighted above, is whether Jadeja plays or not to provide the Indians with a second bowling option.
It may come down to how the pitch looks, but this tour they may be less likely, especially early on, given the unknown quantity of the Australian batting line-up at this level of the game.
Jadeja can add runs, there is no question about that, but the balance of a team in Australia so often dictates the need for seven established batsmen and if one of them happens to bowl, then great.
What India won’t want to do is go into the match with just the four bowlers, given Vihari is a part-timer at best, but they may not have a choice to get the team balance right.
Playing in the hot Aussie conditions with the likelihood of having to bowl well over a day on a flat Adelaide deck isn’t something anyone will want to approach with just four reliable options. Yet, if Jadeja plays, it means Pant will bat at six, and that seems like it could be a recipe for trouble if there was to be an early collapse.
Jadeja actually averages 32 with the bat across 39 Test matches, but Australian conditions are a different challenge altogether – ones Jadeja has never experienced at Test level.
Playing aggressive cricket is a must for a result
The Adelaide Oval, in the days before day-night Test cricket got going, was known for flat pitches and an absolute truckload of runs.
The day-night Tests have meant better wickets and the pink ball doing plenty under lights in the last few years, so Adelaide has been a place where results have happened and happened early.
This year, there is an expectation that we may well go back to the old Adelaide, with the drop-in wicket unlikely to provide a bowlers paradise. That is, even with the talk of a green deck in the lead-up. A generous covering is more likely to be, especially with hot weather forecast, what we would know as ‘fake grass.’ Looks great, but once the new ball is gone, it may well do absolutely nothing.
For that reason, the five days and 450 overs of the match must be played in a somewhat aggressive frame of mind by both teams if they want to walk away with a result.
Yet, there is a very real probability that may not happen. Australia won’t want to lose this match, while India have been burned so many times in Australia before, the chance of them being friendly and setting up the match with a sporting declaration seems pretty slim.
Dates: Thursday December 6 – Monday December 10
First ball: 11am (AEDT) – 10:30am (local)
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, South Australia
TV: Live, Fox Cricket 501, Channel 7
Online: Live, Foxtel app, Foxtel now, Kayo Sports, Plus7
Umpires: Nigel Llong, Kumar Dharmasena
|Session||Start time (AEDT)||Finish time (AEDT)||Start time (local)||Finish time (local)|
|First session||11:00 AM||1:00 PM||10:30 AM||12:30 PM|
|Lunch break||1:00 PM||1:40 PM||12:30 PM||1:10 PM|
|Second session||1:40 PM||3:40 PM||1:10 PM||3:10 PM|
|Tea break||3:40 PM||4:00 PM||3:10 PM||3:30 PM|
|Third session||4:00 PM||6:00 PM||3:30 PM||5:30 PM|
Note: Hours of play can be changed and modified due to weather. An extra hour is available each day should time be lost. The start of play can be brought forward by half an hour if weather prevented overs being bowled the day before. Play can be extended by a further half an hour should overs not be bowled at the scheduled finish time due to slow over rates.
While the series as a whole might expect to be a lower scoring one, this is a day Test in Adelaide. You should never underestimate what this place could throw up, but if the pitch is as flat as it used to be, even with a good covering of grass, without the pink ball to add intrigue to the match, you’d have to say this one might be heading for a draw.
India’s attack is not one which is going to penetrate on flat, lifeless pitches, and their batting line-up will be good to thwart the Aussie bowlers in tame conditions once they get past the new ball.
As much as I’d love to see a result, I tend to think we will be heading to Perth with the series still level.
Adelaide. Day Test. Draw.
Don’t forget, here at The Roar, we will have your every need covered throughout the match with a live blog and highlights of each day’s play on the site.