With the T20Is done and dusted, the focus now shifts to the real business at hand – the Test series. India unfortunately drew the T20I series as rain played spoilsport and the better team got the wrong end of the stick. That’s in the past now as Virat Kohli and co. get set for a history making Test series that experts have billed ‘India’s best chance of winning a series Down Under’. India will lock horns with Australia in four Test matches to be played between December 2018 and January 2019 and the series is important for both sides in several contexts. India will be looking for victories that will wash away all the dirt and pain from their harrowing losses to South Africa and England earlier this year, where they lost 1-2 and 1-4 respectively, while Australia, who are reeling in the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner, and are yet to complete a series win across formats, ever since the start of the International ban on both the players are looking for a win in their own backyard to boost morale.
No Indian captain has ever won a Test series in Australia and thus, the magnitude of the occasion is just mind blowing as this Indian side has the ability to script history. For the Aussies, their past performances have brought them massive criticism from the cricketing fraternity across the globe, and the forthcoming Test series could be the only possible way for them to regain their lost pride.
India are the overwhelming favourites not because they are ranked No. 1 in the ICC rankings but because this Australian side is depleted due to the absence of their beleaguered stars Steve Smith and David Warner. India have visited Australia 11 times, but have never managed to win one. In their last meeting Down Under, despite Kohli’s masterclass all through the four matches, India lost 0-2 in 2014.
The legendary rivalry between India and Australia takes on a new edge and while history tells us that the Australians have always had an upper hand at home, the Indian team’s current form has led many to believe otherwise. Will India finally buck the trend and emerge victorious this year? Stay tuned folks!
1st Test: 06th December – 10th December 2018, 05.30am @ Adelaide Oval
2nd Test: 14th December – 18th December 2018, 07.50am @ Perth Stadium
3rd Test: 26th December – 30th December 2018, 05.00am @ Melbourne Cricket Ground
4th Test: 03rd January – 07th January 2019, 05.00am @ Sydney Cricket Ground
In 2018, India have played nine Test matches and have won five, while Australia have managed to secure only two victories in seven Tests and none since the ball-tampering incident. Australia series will be India’s last chance to prove themselves as a deserving No.1 Test team especially after the team lost back-to-back overseas series this year – South Africa and England.
With the first Test of the 4-match series scheduled to begin on December 6th at Adelaide Oval, the just concluded 4-day fixture in Sydney was Team India‘s only chance at adapting to Australian pitches and while they put up a spirited performance against a youthful Cricket Australia XI side at SCG, a major chunk of Australian national team players were involved in Round 5 of the Sheffield Shield assignment. The trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood, however, have been rested from the Shield matches as the board looks to keep them fresh for the Test series.
The Indian cricket team had concerns over the standard of the side they were facing in the warm up game, however, Cricket Australia defended the squad, saying that the Sheffield Shield fixtures could not be compromised for the match. The 12-man CA squad consisted of mostly inexperienced players. Eight of the squad members have played only a limited number of Sheffield Shield matches while D’Arcy Short was the only member of the side to have played international cricket. The inexperienced squad did have some talented players, including Victoria’s Jonathan Merlo, NSW’s Param Uppal, Queensland’s Max Bryant and Western Australia’s Aaron Hardie.
The Indian quintet of Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Parthiv Patel, Hanuma Vihari and Murali Vijay had flown in directly to Sydney a week ago to kick-start preparations for the Test series. None of the 5 batsmen were a part of the T20I series and hence had been preparing with a 2-member Indian coaching team ahead of the practice match at the same venue. The bad news for Team India from the tour game was the ankle injury that Shaw sustained that ruled him out of the first Test but Vijay’s timely 100 in the second innings would have calmed the jitters down considerably.
Prithvi Shaw’s ouster makes KL Rahul the second opener automatically and alongside him, one could get to witness Murali Vijay essaying the role of an opener, courtesy his century knock in the four-day practice game. Chetshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinky Rahane, and Hanuma Vihari notched fifty plus totals as well and looked in terrific form while batting in Aussie conditions and would look to replicate a similar show at Adelaide. The batting unit would be heavily dependent on the opening duo of Vijay and Rahul and in case they fail to make an impact, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli would be expected to take on the mantle and carry out the task of aggregating colossal runs.
Among the bowlers, the pace trio of Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, and Shami, who holds a certain degree of proficiency in generating reverse swing, will hold the key. The Indian bowling attack is inarguably one of the fiercest lineups at present in World cricket and in terms of a spinner, R Ashwin would be the default option India would go to.
Expected Playing XI: Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant (wk), Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin, Hanuma Vihari, Ajinkya Rahane.
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has been pretty accurate in his Test series predictions, having forecast a 4-0 scoreline for the Ashes series. He wears the Nostradamus hat once again for India’s Test series Down Under and it is not good news for the visitors. The Tasmanian has forecast as 2-1 series win for Australia, while everyone in India is hoping for a series victory, something which has eluded them.
With Australia missing their two top batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch have made their presence felt putting on some mind-boggling performances in the recent tour of the UAE and would be expected to emulate the same against India. Shaun Marsh, who is currently one of the most experienced players in the Australian lineup, had a memorable home series in the Ashes, and would be expected to carry on in the same vein.
Among the bowlers, the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins would play a major role in decimating the Indian top-order. Nathan Lyon, who has been going through a purple patch in his red-ball career, would also play a quintessential role in helping Australia draw first blood in the four-match Test series.
Expected Playing XI: Aaron Finch, Usman Khwaja, Travis Head, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Peter Handscomb, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Starc, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins.
Virat Kohli(c), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Parthiv Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Tim Paine(c), Mitchell Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
Five Milestones To Watch Out For
#1 Virat Kohli is eight runs away from the 1000 run mark in Tests on Australian soil
Indian skipper Virat Kohli has played just eight Tests in Australia so far, and yet he is already the fourth-best Indian in terms of Test runs made Down Under. The 30-year-old batsman has made 992 runs from 16 innings in eight matches, at an average of 62.00, including five hundreds and two fifties. His highest score in Australia is 169.
#2 India looking for a first-ever series win in Australia
India has a very dismal record when it comes to playing Tests in Australia. Apart from solitary wins scattered out across the years, the side has never managed to bring home a series in its entirety.
#3 Virat Kohli needs two hundreds to get past Tendulkar’s tally in Australia
Sachin Tendulkar has the most hundreds among Indian players, in Australia. His tally includes six tons made in 20 matches, including a brilliant 241 not out. Following the maestro is Virat Kohli (five tons from eight matches) and Sunil Gavaskar (five tons from 11 matches).
#4 Cheteshwar Pujara is 95 runs away from the 5000-run mark in Test Cricket
Tests 64, Innings 107, Not Outs 8, Runs 4905, Highest 206*, Average 49.54, Hundreds 15, Fifties 19.
#5 Kohli needs three hundreds to overtake Tendulkar in most tons scored across all formats in a year
As of now, the Indian captain has scored ten tons in 2018, and he needs three more to overcome Sachin’s tally of 12 centuries (set in 1998) to become the player with most hundreds in a calendar year.
Very ominous signs for Australia heading into the series though, where pitches are more pace and swing friendly, the year 2018 belonged to the emergence of Indian fast bowling. Kohli’s numbers with the bat this year across formats have been gobsmacking, but 2018 (even with one series still remaining) has surely got to be the year of Indian pacers. Once the Indian batting ensemble finds its rhythm and combines with the band of bowlers with emcee Kohli at helm, India won’t be far from playing the tune of world domination, whose notes were first written by the pacers. The bowlers delivered in both away assignments this year, however, it were the batsmen (barring the obvious – Kohli) who surrendered rather too tamely. A telling sign of the shift in power paradigm in Indian Test cricket.
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