With the attention of cricket fans nation-wide well and truly captured by the recent ODI and T20I series, all focus now shifts to Adelaide for the start of what promises to be a scintillating Test series.
Although the limited-overs matches seemed to have just about everything – from Steve Smith “finding his hands”, to thrilling finishes, spectacular catches, and Virat Kohli at his masterful best – it’s the four-Test Border-Gavaskar series that guarantees to go down in history as one of the most entertaining contests in recent history.
As the purists like to declare, a great white ball match lasts in the memory for a week, whereas a great Test match is never forgotten. Think the SCG Test in January of 2008, or Kolkata 2001 (a Test many Australians wish to forget), and even the Adelaide Test of 2014, in the aftermath of one of cricket’s most tragic moments in the passing of Phillip Hughes. These matches will forever be etched in the sport’s history, and in the minds of fans for generations to come.
This summer’s series will surely produce more of these magical moments, and matches that will stay with us for many years to come. Where last time around (2018-19), the Australians seemed to be in a ‘rebuilding’ phase following the ball-tampering scandal of Cape Town, the hosts head into the series as the number one ranked Test side in the world. This ranking will go on the line this summer, with one eye firmly fixed on next year’s World Test Championship final at Lord’s next year.
Despite the fact he will only play the first of four Tests before flying back to India for the birth of his first child, the performance of Indian captain Virat Kohli in Adelaide will be crucial in determining the outcome of the series. His battle with the world’s number one ranked Test batsman, Steve Smith, looks set to be one of the most mouthwatering contests of the entire summer. Both appear to be in their usual, scintillating form following the white ball series, in which both men reminded us of exactly how destructive they can be.
Unlike two summers ago when Australia seemed to have no response to India’s marathon man Cheteshwar Pujara, the hosts may have found an answer in the form of Marnus Labuschagne. Last summer’s breakout star will be looking to continue the form that saw him crowned Australia’s Test player of the year in February, whereas Pujara is no doubt planning on batting the Aussies out of the series as he did last time around.
In the bowling stakes, it’s hard to go past the duel of the fast bowlers in Pat Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah. Cummins, the number 1 ranked Test bowler in the world, will be fresh and raring to go after being rested for the T20I series, and Bumrah will surely draw confidence from his performance here in 2018-19.
Nathan Lyon will no doubt prove instrumental for the Australians, and his battle with Ravichandran Ashwin looks set to set the series alight. Both men will be looking to stake their claim as the number one off-spinner in world cricket, which promises to deliver some fantastic bowling.
Much like Will Pucovski, the Australian selectors will be experiencing headaches aplenty after the prodigious young opener was felled by a Kartik Tyagi bouncer on the final day of India’s tour match against Australia A. With David Warner likely to miss at least the first Test of the series, Pucovski and Burns were shaping to be the most likely opening pairing for the start of the series, however, a fresh concussion concern for the young Victorian has cast doubt over such plans.
This may open the door for fellow Victorian Marcus Harris, who hasn’t played a Test match since being dropped during last year’s Ashes tour of England. Should Harris come into the side and perform well, the selectors would have a headache of a different kind in how to bring Warner, and even Pucovski, into the side.
The case of Western Australian young gun Cameron Green looks to be similarly puzzling. With incumbent Matthew Wade looking to be in fine form throughout the T20 series, it’s hard to see the selectors opting to leave him out. Travis Head too must surely keep his spot in the side, coming off the back of a magnificent ton in last year’s boxing day test.
The selectors have shown in the past their willingness to show faith in the incumbent, however, Green is making it nearly impossible to leave him out of the side. A superb 125 not out against a strong Indian bowling line-up showed selectors that he has what it takes to succeed at Test level, following a marathon 197 in the Sheffield against a New South Wales attack that included the likes of Nathan Lyon.
For the Indians, the absence of Virat Kohli appears to leave a gaping hole in the batting line-up, however, could see the inclusion of young guns such as Shreyas Iyer, or India’s new hero in the shorter forms, Hardik Pandya. Pandya is expected to be included in India’s Test squad moving forward, having been initially overlooked.
Unlike the Australians, there is no shortage of talented young openers in the Indian squad, with Privthi Shaw, Shubman Gill, and Mayank Agarwal all available. KL Rahul too has opened often at Test level, and the Indians will be sweating on the fitness of Rohit Sharma, who missed the limited-overs matches with a hamstring injury he picked up during the IPL. The big-hitting superstar is hoping to feature in the latter half of the series, although no doubt India will be looking to bring him back before then.
The other selection query for India is the fitness of Ravindra Jadeja, who picked up both a concussion and a hamstring injury in the recent T20 series in controversial circumstances. He is reportedly set to miss the first Test, which may create an opportunity for all-rounder Hanuma Vihari, or the possibility of a second spinner to pair Ashwin.