India have only won five of 44 Tests in Australia and that abysmal record could well look more respectable with the upcoming four match series, starting Thursday (December 6) in Adelaide. For India, it is a quest to end their tag of terrible travellers after losing the series against South Africa (1-2) and England (1-4) with Australia posing an opportunity for Virat Kohli and co. to win first Test series Down Under in 70 years.
Much of the focus has been Kohli and the challenge he poses for the Australian bowling coupled with his aggression on the field. But, for many, a win in the series could be his legacy as a captain. Historically, in 70 years and spread over 11 tours, India have best of two drawn series, under Sunil Gavaskar in 1980-81 and Sourav Ganguly in 2003-04 which is reflection of Indian sides’ temperament rather than quality.
Absence of Hardik Pandya has created the only point of contention in the Indian 12-man squad that was announced on Wednesday. With the allrounder missing, India would have to take a call on whether to play specialist batsman in Rohit Sharma or allrounder Hanuma Vihari.
Rohit last played Test cricket in South Africa and a horrible series for him saw just 78 runs in four innings while batting at number five. It meant he was not picked for the series against England and at home to West Indies. However, he is back in the mix on the back of limited-overs’ form, and his ability to play horizontal bat shots well. Vihari made a good case of himself in England by scoring a fine maiden half-century.
The underlying point being made by team management and Kohli himself after the tours of South Africa and England has been that the two scorelines aren’t necessarily true reflections of the contests with India doing well in sessions but not enough to win specific Tests. Will that trend continue in Australia, remains to be seen.
Going by the record in South Africa and England, India have two issues to iron out and overcome in Australia – a well rounded batting effort and a good start to an inning.
Aside from Kohli, who scored 286 runs in three Tests against South Africa, next best batsman was Pandya with 119 of which 93 came in one inning. Cheteshwar Pujara managed only 100 runs in the three Tests, while Murali Vijay (102 runs) and KL Rahul (30 runs in two Tests) also came a cropper.
At the top of the order, opening issues persisted for India in England. After only 26 runs in two Tests, Vijay was sent home. Rahul improved to score 299 runs in five Tests but 149 of those came in the final innings of the series at the Oval. His previous nine innings on the tour had yielded only 150 runs and 37 was his highest score. Shikhar Dhawan, not part of the Test squad to face Australia, scored 162 runs in four Tests. Prithvi Shaw was touted to open the innings but picked up an ankle injury in the practice match and is out for the first two Tests. Across the eight Tests, India used four opening pairings including Parthiv Patel alongside Vijay. Overall, the opening pairs average 18.16 runs in three Tests in South Africa and 23.70 in series in England.
Pujara and Rahane lacked touch for the large part until scoring in one or two innings to better their aggregate tally. Pujara took it to 278 runs in four Tests in England and Rahane to 257 in five Tests.
In the bowling department, India don’t have a surprise element with Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin making up four-pronged line-up. It will go head-to-head with Australia’s similar foursome of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon.
India (12): Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami.
Australia (playing eleven): Tim Paine (capt & wk), Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood,