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The elusive Indian crown awaits captain Cummins’ jewel box

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Last updated on 08 Feb 2023 | 07:07 AM
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The elusive Indian crown awaits captain Cummins’ jewel box

An elusive series win in India remains on the bucket list for most Australians in the squad

It’s that time of the year, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and all eyes are on the health of Test cricket. It is also that time when most of your Twitter timelines will be filled with tweets such as ‘Test cricket, you beauty’ and so on.

Usually around this time, there are words exchanged between the camps, there is plenty of banter and chit-chat but this time around, it is clean. So clean that you wonder, what has really happened on this planet? In the yesteryear, the series was nothing short of a warzone, bullets via words used to swift around the camps.

“In world cricket that's everyone's goal - to try and win in India,” Josh Hazlewood had to say ahead of the first Test.

“It will be a career highlight, an era-defining series if we win out there,” Pat Cummins talked about the prospect of India.

“It [India] is a difficult place to win a Test match let alone a series. So, if we are able to do that, it would be huge. I think, if we can win in India, that would be bigger than an Ashes series,” Steve Smith minced no words on the Indian challenge.But this time around there is none of that, at least from the players. If anything, three of Australia’s greatest cricketers – Hazlewood, Cummins and Smith – have all come out calling this series as the ultimate ‘pinnacle’ and winning this in Cummins’ own words would define the era. 

It is all sweet talks at the moment but come Thursday (February 9), 22 men will fight like their life is on line.

Things to watch out for

Australia enter the series with several injuries in their camp, including one to Cameron Green, which might just rule him out of the first Test. Since his debut, Green has been a vital cog of this Australian setup, providing them with the required balance – as an all-rounder. But in Green’s absence, Australia might just have to lean towards one aspect, either play a batter or a bowler.

If indications are true, the Kangaroos might look at Peter Handscomb as a specialist batter. But can they go the Matt Renshaw way? He’s faced both Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, and has even had good success against them.

Also Read: Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023: a series filled with intriguing sub-plots

One aspect that Australia would head into with a slight edge over India – middle-order. The presence of a revitalized Travis Head can be instrumental in Australia’s success in the sub-continent. Head provides Australia with an edge across the departments, not only is he an able fielder but the ability to provide crucial breakthroughs along with his swashbuckling cameos, come as a big positive for Australia.

India, on the other hand, have a decision to make. Opting to go with Shubman Gill might strengthen their batting depth but going with Suryakumar Yadav might give them an explosive edge given there are umpteen number of all-rounders in the setup. It is an interesting challenge for the Indian think-tanks.

Australia’s woes don’t end there. It rarely does before a series of this reverence. With no Mitchell Starc or Hazlewood, they are forced to take the road less travelled – trusting Scott Boland – with a tough task of bowling in Indian conditions. 

Thus far, Boland has answered every call with halcyon but this test is unlike others. It could either make him a hero or break him down to pieces. Boland offers control, and then there is Lance Morris, one who promises only thunderbolts. But will thunderbolts really affect proceedings on a dry and sluggish surface here in Nagpur?

Pitch and conditions

If you are in India, spin is something that you should encounter a lot. The first Test here in Nagpur won’t be any different, with 111 wickets at the venue across all the Tests being played taken by spinners. That’s a staggering 60.8% of the wickets here.

The last time there was a clash here at the Jamtha ground, it was the left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate, with a truck load of wickets. To add to that, the drama that surrounded the Test in lieu with the pitch surely is set to play a factor. The selective watering, leaving the areas for left-handers a bit dry could bite Australia. 

From a batting point of view, it is safe to back top-order batters here, considering how the top-order batters (1-3) average 37.4, in comparison to the middle-order (35.8). So, that’s all the numbers that you need to worry about.

Also Read: Number 5 and spin attack trickiest decisions to make for India

Tactical Nous

-        The Australian skipper, Pat Cummins, has been extremely successful against Virat Kohli. In Tests, the paceman has dismissed Kohli five times in 10 innings. The batter averages just 16.4 and has a balls/dismissal ratio of 49.4. Against a bowler whom Kohli has faced 150+ balls, that’s the lowest he averages.

-        Overall, Cheteshwar Pujara has scored 521 runs against Lyon in 28 innings averaging 52.1 (10 dismissals). In Tests this century, only Kumar Sangakkara has scored more runs (531) against a particular bowler (Saeed Ajmal).

-        After facing 10+ innings against both Jadeja and Ashwin, Smith has managed to maintain an average of over 65 against Ashwin and 45+ against Jadeja. Once again, the onus will be on Smith to counter Ashwin and Jadeja.

More tactical match-ups and nous are here in the H2H Battles, written by Anirudh Kasargod.

Team Combination

India have a big decision to make, should they hand a Test cap to the rampant white-ball batter, Suryakumar Yadav or just go with the flow and insist on sticking with the other in-form batter, Shubman Gill. That isn’t it all, if India persists with three spinners, only two out of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj can feature in the playing XI. 

Predicted XI: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill/Suryakumar Yadav, KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami/Mohammed Siraj

Australia are without Starc, Green and now, Hazlewood. So, it isn’t that tough for them, they will have to do what India did in 2021, and put up a team. That’s all. But will that team be enough to challenge the behemoth India at their own den? 

Predicted XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland

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