Commonsense suggests that in the current climate there’s more likelihood of a Test series with India in Australia rather than a T20 World Cup. With the pandemic still lurking, it’s far easier to provide a reasonably safe environment for one rather than 16 playing squads. So what is the likely outcome of a series between two of the Test heavyweights?
India’s historic away series win the last time these two teams met will be a far more difficult feat to repeat. The two big differences between the 2018-19 series and this one will be the return of David Warner and Steve Smith and an opening encounter at the infamous Gabbatoir.
I’m mystified why the Gabba is such a black spot for touring teams; the pitch is true and it’s fair to all players. And yet Australia haven’t suffered a Test defeat here since 1988-89. The helter-skelter nature of modern scheduling, resulting in limited time to prepare for local conditions, could be one reason for the abject failure of touring teams at the Gabba.
If India are forced to isolate on arrival this may turn out to be a blessing in preparing for Australian conditions. Whatever constraints are placed on the Indians, they should use this period to prepare cleverly and competitively.
Competitive tour games
A failure of many touring teams to Australia has been their reluctance to play competitive fixtures in the lead up to the Tests. Too often these games are reduced to a virtual centre-wicket practice session. India need to ensure they approach any games in the lead up to the Gabba seeking victory.
In assessing the two sides India’s biggest challenge will be navigating a strong Australian batting line-up. In addition to the presence of Smith and Warner, the meteoric rise of Marnus Labuschagne at No. 3 has helped solidify the batting. Australia is now far less reliant for success on big contributions from Smith and Warner. Warner’s opening partner is an area of weakness that India need to fully exploit but keeping the big three quiet should be the main focus of their attack.
Assuming India has a full strength squad—three West Indies cricketers have opted out of the upcoming England series—the touring selectors have a crucial role to play.
Hardik Pandya will be key
It will help if Hardik Pandya is available. He gives India an extra bowling option to maintain the pressure when the leading fast bowlers need a rest. This is Pandya’s chance to gradually build up overs in the three Tests before the Sydney Test, where he could act as the third seamer so that a second spinner can be included. Having Pandya at seven would necessitate Rishabh Pant ‘keeping and batting at six.
Choosing a spinner will prove a major headache for the Indian selectors. Ravichandran Ashwin has a great overall record but not so good in Australia. Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round talent and improved bowling form make him a legitimate challenger, while Kuldeep Yadav’s wrist-spin is the biggest wicket-taking threat on Australian pitches. The choice will call for some brave selections.
For Australia, the choice of bowlers is straightforward. The pace bowling is in great shape with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson forming a potent quartet. The spinner is a simple decision—Nathan Lyon and then daylight.
The batting line-up is not as clear cut. The recently announced contract list suggests Joe Burns will be Warner’s opening partner. Burns is vulnerable early and this is India’s big opportunity to first get at Labuschagne and then Smith while the ball is new.
Australia’s middle-order is an uncertain quantity with Travis Head, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh vying for two spots. That middle-order fragility highlights the rewards on offer for keeping the big three in check.
Australia’s strong attack should restrict India’s scoring to reasonable levels despite the daunting presence of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. This heavyweight bout will be decided by who punches above their weight—Australia’s big three or India’s big bats.
The number of Tests Australia have won from a total of 62 matches at the Gabba till date, with 13 draws and one tie
The number of Tests Australia have lost at the Gabba—a loss percentage of just 12.90
Australia’s unbeaten Test run at the Gabba since 1988-89. They’ve drawn just seven matches in the same period
Marnus Labuschagne’s top score v Pakistan in Australia’s last Test at the Gabba in November
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