It has been less than two weeks since India dominated Bangladesh in that only Test. Through assertive performances with both bat and ball, the team showed why they are number 1 in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) Test rankings.
However, before concluding the year (which ends on 31st March, as per ICC’s cricket calendar) as the number one ranked side, they face a persistent Australian squad. The Aussies are second in the rankings and a series win could see them steal the number one spot less than a month before the annual prize is awarded.
While we know the battle for the #1 spot will be intense, there are 5 other battles within this battle that could make the series worth watching.
1. David Warner vs Umesh Yadav
Umesh is India’s lead seam bowler going into this Test series, andhe will be expected to lead the attack. He was impressive in the first innings against Bangladesh, where he picked up 3 wickets.
He has been known to be inconsistent though, and it is possible that he may underperform in the upcoming series. On the other hand, Warner has been Australia’s premier opener for a while now and is known for performing almost every time he steps on to the pitch. Despite his explosive batting, it remains to be seen whether he can pace his innings.
The last time Warner played on Indian soil, he captained the Sunrisers Hyderabad (and was their lead run scorer) to the IPL 9 Trophy in 2016. However, Umesh missed a lot of that season and didn’t feature in any of the games versus the Sunrisers. Warner and Yadav do have a history: in the 2015 IPL, the Aussie scored 91 in the “Orange Army’s” first game against Umesh’s Kolkata Knight Riders. In that game, Yadav conceded 40 runs from his 4 overs. The reverse fixture was a different story; Yadav opened bowling and sent Warner back to the pavilion in just 3 balls.
Both stand at 1 game apiece in T20s, and it will be interesting to see who can get the upper hand in this Test series.
2. Karun Nair vs Nathan Lyon
Karun Nair, the man who scored 300 and still got dropped. Yes, Nair got dropped from the team even after he scored a 300 against England. While his spot in the playing 11 is uncertain, he is certainly a talented individual showing great potential. However, if he does make it into the team, he will come face to face with Australia’s lead spinner, Nathan Lyon.
Lyon is the most experienced spinner out of the 5 chosen for this tour. As pitches in India cater more to spinners than quicks, the visitors will have to rely on Lyon to provide the breakthrough for them.
Lyon has a fairly decent record against India, averaging just over 2 wickets in an innings in Tests. He was also Australia’s top wicket taker in the 2013 series against India, where he picked up 15 wickets in 3 matches.
Nair has never faced Lyon before, and it will be an interesting mini-battle to see, given that the youngster is a good player of spin and will be fighting for his spot in the team.
3. Mitchell Starc vs the Indian Openers
Mitchell Starc is one of the best bowlers in the world today. With 143 wickets claimed in 64 innings at just 28.3 runs per wicket, Starc is as dangerous as they get. Given that the Australians will be playing at Pune and Mohali (the two pitches that offer the most swing in India), Starc could be a lethal weapon in the opening overs.
There are few men who can handle Starc’s bowling. Thankfully for India, one of those men is KL Rahul. Rahul has played with Mitchell Starc in the IPL for RCB, so he knows exactly what to expect. Furthermore, Rahul is in excellent form too, coming off a 199 against England. He is a good player of swing and we can expect him to provide a solid platform for the rest of the line-up.
If Rahul wasn’t enough, India also have Murali Vijay to take on Starc. Vijay is known for his straight drives, and it is quite likely that we will see him bring those out against Starc during the course of this series. Vijay averages just over 40 runs in Tests, but we all know what he’s capable of once he gets going. The last time Australia toured India, Vijay was the top scorer in the series with 430 runs in 7 innings at an average of 61. Shikhar Dhawan played only one game, getting a 187 not out on debut.
Abhinav Mukund makes his return to the Test squad after a long absence. Mukund has played little international cricket, with just 5 Tests to his name. He was called up to the side in 2011 in the absence of regular openers but failed to impress. With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan both not 100% fit, Mukund may actually get some game time this series. If he does play, the Australians may not know what to expect, as none of them have ever played with/against Mukund.
It will be interesting to see with what intent Starc bowls to the Indian openers, given the increasing requirement of aggressive cricket in the early overs of a Test match.
4. Shaun Marsh vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Marsh is making his long-awaited return to the Australian side, after undergoing surgery for a broken finger that he suffered in the Test Series against South Africa. Marsh is ranked number 39 in Test rankings, but this number is quite misleading as he missed over 3 months of cricket due to the injury. He has performed well in limited overs matches India, and will be part of Australia’s middle order, as either Renshaw or Khawaja will open alongside David Warner.
He averages over 40 in Tests, with 4 hundreds in just 34 innings. While Marsh isn’t as explosive as some of his teammates, it will be important for the Indians to dismiss him as quickly as possible. One man who can do that is Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
‘Bhuvi’ is one of the most dangerous swing bowlers currently playing the game. While he doesn’t have the speed of Mitchell Johnson or Wasim Akram, he can make the ball move both ways and is capable of producing edges off the new ball. He hasn’t been a regular in the Indian team, and played only 4 games in 2016. He still managed two 5-wicket hauls in 3 games (the 4th was washed out).
The injury recently incurred by Mohammed Shami could be the chance for Bhuvneshwar to cement his spot in the squad. If he is able pick up important wickets, such as Marsh’s, he will certainly become a regular in the playing 11.
5. Steve Smith vs Virat Kohli
The final battle that everyone is waiting to see is, of course, the number one ranked Test batsman against the number 2 ranked Test batsman. There is nothing that can be said about these two men, as everyone knows who they are.
Kohli averaged over 75 in Tests in 2016, scoring 3 double tons. Steve Smith averages 60 in his career and has 17 hundreds and a double century to his name (The 17 also include a 199 against the West Indies and a 192 against India). While it is unlikely that either of the two will directly face each other as neither bowl much these days, the battle of the captains could go on to decide the series.
So far, Steve Smith has lost only two Test series as captain (against Sri Lanka and South Africa) whereas Kohli’s only series loss as captain came against the Australians in the 2014/15 tour Down Under. It will be quite interesting to see both captains employ tactics in an attempt to swing the momentum in their favour. The captain who performs better will almost certainly lead his side to victory.
Many fans will be surprised to see that Maxwell vs Ashwin didn’t make this list, but in all honesty, Ashwin is quite clearly India’s best spinner while Maxwell has failed to perform on Indian soil. Furthermore, Maxwell isn’t much of a Test player. If he did end up facing Ashwin, it would be a rather one-sided affair.
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