The Indian Test squad will be arriving in Australia in a couple of weeks, with the first Test in Adelaide starting on 17 December.
The last time the two countries met was only two and a bit years ago, so it’s no surprise the likely line-ups won’t contain too many changes.
These are my guesses for the teams for the first test.
|1.||Dave Warner||Mayank Agarwal|
|2.||Joe Burns||Shubman Gill|
|3.||Marnus Labuschagne||Chetshwar Pujara|
|4.||Steve Smith||Virat Kohli|
|5.||Matthew Wade||Ajinkya Rahane|
|6.||Travis Head||Hanuman Vihari|
|7.||Tim Paine||Rishabh Pant|
|8.||Pat Cummins||Ravi Jadeja|
|9.||Mitchell Starc||Mohammad Shami|
|10.||Nathan Lyon||Jasprit Bumrah|
|11.||Josh Hazlewood||Mohammad Siraj|
To borrow from the AFL, where are the key match-ups?
The key to this series will be the bowlers. The opening attacks for both sides are simply outstanding, and both teams will struggle to post a decent opening stand across the entire series.
That means both sides No. 3s are likely to be in early, and if the top three batsmen are considered, Australia has a slight edge.
The lynchpin to India’s success last series was Cheteshwar Pujara. He was rightly judged man of the series, and his 521 runs at 74.42 were testimony to his skill and patience in grinding down the Australian attack, which then allowed the Indian strokemakers to bat around him.
Since that series, though, his form has been indifferent. He averaged just over 36 when the rest of his teammates were scoring plenty against the South Africans, and he would have been very disappointed with a return of just 100 runs from four innings against the Black Caps.
Marnus Labuschagne, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength and with two centuries already this Australian summer appears to be in very good form. India will be sweating on Pujara rediscovering his touch and providing the stability India needs at the top of the order.
Virat Kohli and Steve Smith pretty well cancel each other out, and for all the right reasons. It should be outstanding viewing when either of these two greats gets going.
The next two batsmen from both sides are also pretty equal on paper. Neither Hanuma Vihari nor Ajinkya Rahane had a great tour in 2018, but in fairness to Vihari, he’s played less than a dozen Tests. Both have had at least one good series since, but they, like their teammates, struggled in New Zealand.
Matthew Wade and Travis Head are likely to get first crack in Adelaide, though Wade must be concerned about his place given his indifferent Test summer last year. Both have made good starts to the Shield season, though, and appear to be in good touch.
Once again India and Australia will be wanting far more production from their Nos. 5s and 6s, especially India, if Pujara can’t rediscover his 2018 form.
Rishabh Pant should be streets ahead of Tim Paine as a batsman/keeper, especially after his excellent 2018 summer in Australia (350 runs at 58.33). Since then, however, he’s struggled with the bat, making only 118 runs in his last seven innings. Once again, honours pretty even given Paine’s early-season ton.
Ravi Jadeja versus Nathan Lyon is likely to be a crucial match-up. With no Perth Test and flat wickets in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, these two could be in for a lot of overs this summer.
Lyon has two significant advantages. One is he’s bowling on home wickets and he’s proven he can be a game-changer because he knows how to bowl in Australia with a Kookaburra ball.
His other advantage is the bowling unit. Take your pick of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or James Pattinson – all are outstanding quicks and all can bowl in tandem, as they showed last summer, especially against the Black Caps. The pressure they brought to bear for over after over was some of best combined bowling Australia has produced in decades.
That’s not to say Jadeja, Bumrah and Shami are not world-class – they’ve proven that many times in recent years – but the absence of Ishant Sharma and the addition of the Test novice Mohammad Siraj (or Navdeep Saini) will seriously hurt their attack.
They might get away with blooding a less experienced bowler against most other Test nations, but not against Australia in Australia.
Overall it seems Australia has a slight edge in the batting and a more significant advantage in the bowling. More has to go right in the Indian camp than does in Australia’s if recent form and results are any guide.
The series may well come down to which skipper can best manage their attack and field placements and which side can bat long and make enough runs for their attack to work with.
Tim Paine will also be hoping the series doesn’t come down to a decision about whether to use the DRS!