In Stats: Australia Still a Stiff Challenge for Top-Ranked India
The popular opinion is that India stand favourites to win the Test series in Australia. Team India are the number one ranked team in the ICC Test rankings, are coming into this series at the back of a resounding win over the Windies, and have prepared sufficiently enough leading up to the Test series. That much for sentiment, and for what's happened in the past.
Irrespective of how poorly the current Australian team is rated - they are ranked fifth in the twelve-team Test rankings - they are still going to be one tough side to beat at home.
Beginning 2012, Australia’s win-loss record at home reads 25-3. Australia have lost only two home Test series in the last seven years - on both occasions to nemesis South Africa.
Depleted Australia Still a Force to be Reckoned With
Australia will no doubt miss the experience and the ability of the now-banned Steve Smith and David Warner, but one must remember all the players named in their squad have grown up playing on pitches in Australia. This same Australian side would have struggled on the road, but playing at home - on surfaces familiar to them, eating food which is part of their regular lives and playing in front of crowds who will be cheering for them - it is difficult to foresee that they will not be able to compete.
A look at the careers of some of the batsmen named in the Australian squad indicates that their averages at home are far superior to their averages overseas.
If the Australian batsmen are able to accumulate a decent number of runs – and post totals around 400 – then Team India will face a contest.
Edge With Australia Still, But Only Slightly
Examining the two squads, there is very little to separate them. Both sides are packed with excellent pace bowlers, but Australia perhaps hold the edge on the spin bowling front. Nathan Lyon has had plenty of success against India and knows how to buy wickets on Australian pitches.
Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep are excellent bowlers in their own right, but they are yet to crack the code on how to pick wickets in Australia.
Finally, whichever side’s batsmen fare better will possibly decide the series. And that's the challenge facing Team India. Over the years, Indian batsmen have struggled to cope with the pace and bounce the Australian surfaces have to offer; however, in this current Indian team, there are batsmen with the ability to adapt to surfaces of different kinds – as was seen in South Africa and England this year. If the Indian batsmen adapt to the Australian pitches and are able to post big scores, Team India certainly have the bowling attack to push the hosts into a spot of bother.
Australia – Yet to be Conquered
Just like India - as a host nation - was considered the Final Frontier for the Australian cricket team, the equation is not too different for Team India when it comes to touring and playing in Australia. India have won Test series in all nations they have played in - except in Australia and South Africa.
Test wins in Australia have been far and few for Team India. In 44 Tests in Australia, India have been victorious only 5 times - and most of those wins have come about because of some incredible individual performances. BS Chandrasekhar starred at Melbourne in 1977/78, the Indian spin trio combined to destroy Australia at Sydney in 1977/78, Kapil Dev’s inspired spell at Melbourne in 1980/81, Ajit Agarkar’s 6-wicket burst set up the Test for India at Adelaide in 2003/04, and finally Irfan Pathan’s all-round contribution helped India prevail at Perth in 2007/08.
This time around too, the Indian team has several individuals who can have a telling influence on the outcome of the match. But which one of the 18 players selected for the tour Down Under will have the telling impact? Virat Kohli, maybe?
Australia’s likely XI:
Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Marsh, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood.
India's likely XI:
KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav.