He hasn’t played in the IPL since 2014, yet Test star Cheteshwar Pujara has shown he has plenty left to give in the T20 format with a scorching hundred.
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This could be one of the most exciting Test series of the calendar year as Australia host India.
The stakes are quite high going into this tournament, as a clean sweep should elevate Australia to the top of world rankings.
On the other hand, India are licking their lips at the prospects of a first-ever Test series win in Australia.
The shots have been fired from both sides and experts are giving either team an equal chance to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Australia will back themselves to end this disastrous Test year on a high in their home conditions, while India will want to capitalise on Australian team’s recent debacles to create history come 7th January.
If the T20 series is anything to go by, the Tests will be closely fought.
Hence it will be enticing to see if Australia can thwart India’s march to conquer the final frontier.
In this article, I predict and analyse India’s probable playing XI for the first Test at Adelaide Oval.
M: 59, I: 101, Runs: 3933, Avg: 39.33, 100s: 12, 50s: 15
Promoted as India’s first-choice opener during the last tour to Australia, Vijay was India’s second highest run-scorer behind Virat Kohli.
Much water has passed through the Murray since then and he now finds himself in a race to make it to India’s playing XI.
Youngster Prithvi Shaw’s injury came as a boon and, with a hundred against CAXI, Vijay should open in Adelaide.
Inconsistency has bothered him throughout his career. He has failed to justify his tag as one of India’s veteran Test batsmen. On his day, he plays the most handsome shots and otherwise, he can struggle on the flattest of tracks.
It should be interesting to see how much has his recent county stint with Essex bears results as Vijay registered three fifties and one hundred in five innings after getting dropped after his Lords failure.
This has been one of the worst years in Vijay’s Test career. At just over 21, he has scored only 233 runs in six Tests. Vijay will want to end this year on a high and emulate his performances of the last Australia tour.
India will want Vijay to fire at the top and lay a foundation to reach to good totals throughout the series.
M: 31, I: 51, Runs: 1848, Avg: 37.71, 100s: 5, 50s: 11
Interestingly, it was at the MCG in late 2014 that Lokesh Rahul made his Test debut. Mustering just four runs in the Test, Rahul has come far from there.
One of the highest-rated Indian cricketers of this generation, inconsistency has hampered his career so far. Still only 26, Rahul’s career is yet to reach its pinnacle, and Australia might be the tour where he makes it happen.
Rahul played the knock of his life in the final Test, albeit in a losing effort. However, he followed that up with a bad series against West Indies.
India won the two-Test series in a combined six days but Rahul scored just 37 runs in 3 innings at an average of 18.5.
Rated very highly by namesake Rahul Dravid for his strong batting technique, India’s hopes somewhat rest on how successful his partnership with Vijay is at the top.
Australia will be unlike any other environment KL Rahul has so far played in. He may become one of the success stories of this series or can have a tour to forget down under.
M: 64, I: 107, Runs: 4905, Avg: 49.54, 100s: 15, 50s: 19
Cheteshwar Pujara’s Test career has been a mixed tale. He scored a fluent 72 not out in his debut match against Australia in 2010. After his 2011 comeback to India’s Test side, he took over the role of a No.3 from then retired Rahul Dravid.
In the next few matches, he scored centuries against Australia, New Zealand and England at home.
In the process, he also became the fastest Indian to 1000 runs in Test cricket in terms of the numbers of Tests played, tying with the great Sunil Gavaskar.
Pujara went into 2014 tours of England and Australia as India’s best Test batsman but registered disastrous returns with just 423 runs in those eight Tests.
After a failed 2015, Pujara had amazing 2016 and 2017 where he scored just under 2000 runs across two years.
In fact, Pujara rose up to second in the batting rankings after a flawless double century against Australia in 2017.
This year has brought modest returns for this talented batsman. He registered just 100 runs in three innings with a solitary 50 in South Africa followed by a 35 in a home win over Afghanistan.
Pujara fared slightly better in England with 278 runs in four Tests. While he failed to find consistency, his unbeaten century at the Rose Bowl was one of the best Test knocks of this year.
Finally, he scored 96 runs in two innings against the West Indies at home in October. Pujara will want to end this year on a high with substantial contributions in Australia.
Over last few years, Kohli has emerged as India’s best Test batsman. However, everyone who knows the game regards Cheteshwar Pujara very highly.
With a meek exposure of India’s batting in South Africa and England earlier this year, Pujara’s spot as the number three makes him vital to stabilising India’s batting in Australia.
M: 73, I: 124, Runs: 6331, Avg: 54.57, 100s: 24, 50s: 19
India’s captain. The best batsman in the world across all formats.
These two sentences are enough to explain how important Kohli is to this team. He has come a long way from being a rowdy 22-year-old Test debutant in West Indies to an uber passionate and a well-accomplished batsman.
Kohli holds one of the best 50 to 100 runs conversion rates in international Test cricket. He is coming off a very good year as well.
Kohli started this year with a moderate success in South Africa with 286 runs in three Tests with one 150+ score and a 50. He had one of his best series in England with just under 600 runs in five Tests.
He also scored two centuries and three fifties then.
Finally, he scored 184 runs in two innings against the West Indies with the help of a single century. Kohli will want to continue his form down under.
Virat Kohli took his Test career to another level in India’s 2014-15 tour of Australia as he finished with 692 runs in four matches with four centuries.
He finished second only to Steven Smith in terms of runs scored. Virat has improved since then and will like to have an encore of those performances.
Former Australian cricketers such including Jason Gillespie, Ryan Harris and Ricky Ponting have discussed the importance of Kohli’s wicket and the ways to get him out for cheap.
Perhaps for the first time since Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar, this much attention being given to an overseas batsman touring Australia.
A lot depends on Kohli if India wants to win this series. His performances with the bat are likely to play a decisive role in the way this series goes.
M: 52, I; 88, Runs: 3271, Avg: 41.40, 100s: 9, 50s: 15
Inconsistency is one of the words associated with India’s Test batting in recent years. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane’s career is a prime example of that.
Debuting against Australia in 2013, Rahane has been a mainstay in India’s middle order since then. However, recent inconsistency has brought questions to his place in India’s Test XI.
He shone during India’s last tour of Australia as he finished with 399 runs in four Tests. His 147 at the MCG showcased his talent.
Rahane will like to have similar returns in this series.
2018 has been of mixed performances for him. He lost his place to Rohit Sharma for first two Tests in South Africa. However, his fighting 48 at the Wanderers highlighted his class as India won the match.
After captaining India to a win against Afghanistan and getting lauded for his generous post-match gesture, much was expected of him in the crunch tour to England.
However, he failed to turn up and finished with just 257 runs in 10 innings with two 50s.
One of the peculiarities of Rahane’s Test career are his skewed statistics in home and away Tests.
Rahane has scored more than twice his runs away from India than at home. Six of his nine hundreds and 11 of his 15 50s have come overseas.
Veteran commentator Kerry O’Keeffe has already tipped him to have a strong series. With a 50 in the warm-up match against CAXI, Rahane appears ready to play a key role in India’s middle order down under.
M: 25, I: 43, Runs: 1479, Avg: 39.97, 100s: 3, 50s: 9
This is where it gets interesting.
One of the biggest questions that looms in every Indian cricket follower’s mind is why has Rohit been unable to perform to his potential in the longest format of the game?
Many have pointed at his impatience early on in his innings while a few don’t consider his technique fit for Tests.
It is quite rare to see a player with 21 ODI centuries (including three double centuries) and four T20I centuries to not be regularly in the Test playing XI.
However, Rohit’s inconsistency and inability to convert his starts to a bigger score have played a role in him not finding a consistent run with India’s Test side.
His career started on a very high note with a man of the series performance against West Indies in Sachin Tendulkar’s last Test series.
However, he had a barren period between 2014 and 2015 with just 563 runs in 12 Tests with four 50-plus scores.
2016 and 2017’s limited opportunities brought good results. However, failure in South Africa earlier this year made him lose his spot in the Test XI.
So far, Rohit has failed overseas with just 710 runs in 29 innings at under 26, He is yet to score a century outside India as well.
Australia can be the tour where it all changes. While the hosts have a solid bowling attack, Rohit is more than capable of scoring runs in this series.
Rohit Sharma is much better than his career statistics and this is his chance to prove it. This might be Rohit’s final opportunity to make a name as a world-class batsman, rather than a world-class limited-overs batsman.
M: 5, I: 8, Runs: 346, Avg: 43.25, 100s: 1, 50s: 2
Who may be one India’s Achilles heel, Rishabh Pant has more to gain than lose from this series.
He has his task cut out in such a taxing series at the start of his career. His talent paired up with flair can be a cocktail to success.
Still only 21, Pant has been a mainstay in India’s domestic cricket since 2015. In fact, he has scored over 2000 first class at around 52 with a high score of 308.
An experienced first-class cricketer, Pant is still quite green at the international level.
Dinesh Karthik’s failure in England opened doors for him for last three Tests.
In that series, Pant had decent returns of 162 runs in three Tests. His 114 partnering Lokesh Rahul’s gritty 149 nearly let India pull off a heroic chase at the Kennington Oval.
He followed that up with two half-centuries in two the innings against West Indies at home.
With MS Dhoni retired and Karthik, Parthiv Patel & Wriddiham Saha failing to cement their position, India have turned to Pant to offer a long-term wicketkeeping solution.
While his gloveswork needs to improve, an experience in Australia should be a great lesson for this youngster.
If he fails, Pant won’t face the biggest of brunt but if he succeeds, India can finally have a very good player in its lower middle order.
M: 64, Runs: 2331, Bat Avg: 29.50, Wickets: 336, Bowl Avg: 25.44, SR: 53.1, 5WI: 26, 10 WM: 7
Primarily a bowler who can bat, Ravichandran Ashwin will be important for India. With Hardik Pandya missing out, he may need to step in as a capable all-rounder in this series.
Ashwin boasts impeccable numbers in Test cricket with 336 wickets in a mere 64 Tests. He was the fastest Indian to reach a 100-wicket mark, second fastest in the world to reach 200 wickets and fastest in the world to take 250 and 300 wickets.
However, analysing these number paints a peculiar image.
Out of his 336, 234 wickets have been in India and 102 have been overseas.
Additionally, his last two Australia tours bore very limited returns.
In 2011-12, he took nine wickets in three Tests at just under 63 while in 2014-15, he registered 12 scalps at over 48.
This calendar year, Ashwin has taken 32 wickets in nine Tests, with 14 in three Tests in India, seven wickets in two Tests against South Africa and 11 in four Tests in England.
He also scored 276 runs in 15 innings with a few 30+ scores.
Coming into this series, comparisons between him and Australia’s Nathan Lyon are rife.
While questions have been raised about Ashwin’s place in India’s overseas Test sides, Lyon has become an indispensable part of Australia’s Test side.
During the last tour, Lyon took 23 wickets in four Tests to Ashwin’s 12 and was key as the home side ran away 2-0 victors.
Even this time, Lyon is touted as one of the most important players in the Australian side.
He has trained hard for a few days to ensure strong returns this time around down under. Ashwin’s success as an all-rounder will play a big role in deciding the fate of this series.
M: 87, I: 155, Wickets: 256, Bowl Avg: 34.73, SR: 64.7, 5 WI: 8, 10 WM: 1
It’s been 10 years since that spell by Ishant Sharma at the WACA. An ardent Indian cricket fan still remembers how Sharma, then just 20, set Ricky Ponting up.
It was a welcome win at Perth following the Sydney debacle.
Since then, Ishant has been a regular feature in India’s Test setup. However, he has failed to cement his place in the starting XI.
Once revered by Australian great Steve Waugh as the next big thing of Indian cricket, Ishant has found a few excellent performances (such as a 15 wicket series in New Zealand or a 7/74 spell leading to India’s famous win at Lords) amid a string of ordinary returns.
This will be Ishant’s fourth Australia tour.
After a highly successful series of 2008, he failed considerably in 2011/12 with five wickets in four Tests.
He fared slightly better in 2014-15 but registered just nine scalps in three matches.
Now India’s most experienced paceman, much will be expected of Ishant in this series.
So far, this has been his career’s best year. Ishant has taken 30 wickets in eight Tests at just over 21 in 2018.
He was one of India’s best bowlers in England with 18 dismissals in five Tests.
It should be seen how much Ishant’s skill of sticking tirelessly to a disciplined line and length helps India in this four-Test series.
M: 36, I: 69, Wickets: 128, Bowl Avg: 29.96, SR: 52.6, 5 WI: 3, 10 WM: 0
This year has been weird for paceman Mohammad Shami.
Injuries forced him to miss nearly the entire IPL 2018 and personal life issues threatened to derail his career.
However, Shami performed whenever entrusted to do so. He is an immensely talented bowler who can touch high 140s, control his accuracy and get any ball to move both ways.
This year, he has taken 33 wickets in nine Tests at an average of under 28.
He was one of India’s better bowlers in England, with 16 wickets in five Tests. Earlier this year, Shami finished as the joint highest wicket-taker in South Africa with 15 wickets in three Tests at just over 17.
This will be Shami’s second tour of Australia. So far, he has tasted good success down under.
Shami took 15 wickets in three Tests in 2014/15 and followed it up with a highly successful World Cup campaign with 17 wickets in Australia and New Zealand.
Mohammad Shami is one of the genuine wicket-takers in India’s ranks. India will want him to get wickets and have another good series in Australia.
M: 6, I: 12, Wickets: 28, Bowl Avg: 25.57, SR: 52.6, 5 WI: 2, 10 WM: 0
Jasprit Bumrah’s rise in international cricket has been meteoric.
An IPL find, Bumrah’s career has only moved upwardly since his ODI debut at Sydney less than three years ago.
He is a regular in India’s limited overs setup since then and has now become the leader of India’s pace bowling attack across all formats.
Bumrah possesses one of the best yorkers in the game, learned under the tutelage of Lasith Malinga.
He has a good rhythm in his runup, an unorthodox action and is deceptively pacy. He constantly touches 145km/h and bowls a cheeky 115 km/h in case somewhere in his spell, albeit with a good line and length.
Among India’s bowlers, Bumrah had the best returns this year. Debuting against South Africa in January, he took 14 wickets in three Tests and was the second highest wicket-taker.
In England, he emerged as India’s best bowler with 14 wickets in just three Tests, sometimes bowling unplayable deliveries.
With a good T20 series under his belt, Bumrah looks set to take on Australia in cricket’s longest format.
He is yet to find cold feet during tough overseas tours in his short career. Jasprit Bumrah is India’s best bet in bowling as they look to bamboozle Australia.