The stage is set for the much-awaited Test series between India and Australia, with the first Test beginning from Thursday, December 6, 2018, in Adelaide. The pressure will be on both the teams – albeit for a different set of reasons. India have failed to win two away Test series earlier this year, a 2-1 loss in South Africa, followed by a 4-1 drubbing in England. Skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have received much criticism for failing to deliver overseas in Test, and the men in blue will be eager to silence the critics by winning in Australia.
Australia, on the other hand, have been under the scanner, ever since the ball-tampering episode earlier in March this year. In the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith, who are facing a 12-month ban, the side’s batting line-up appears to be weak and critics believe it could be India’s best chance of picking up a rare series win in the country. The home side will be eager to put up a good show against the World No. 1 side and perhaps, bring the focus back on cricket.
Here are batsmen to watch out for in the 4-match Test series:
Virat Kohli (India)
India captain Virat Kohli is in sublime form with the bat in the longest format. The 30-year is the leading run-getter in the format with 1,063 runs in 10 Tests with an average of 59.05. The right-handed batsman has scored four centuries this year, two in England and one coming in South Africa. He was also the only batsman from India to score a ton against Proteas.
Going into Australia, Kohli is expected to be India’s key player. He has already played 8 Tests in the country before, in which he has amassed 992 runs at an average of 62. He has also scored 5 tons and 2 half centuries in the country. With his past records, and current form, one thing appears to be certain, the Indian captain could be the difference maker.
Prithvi Shaw (India)
The teenage sensation Prithvi Shaw showed in the one-off Practice Match against Cricket Australia XI in Sydney that his heroics in home series against West Indies were not just fluke. The right-handed batsman scored 66 runs in 69 balls in the first innings, once again showing his ability to score runs at a fast pace. The 19-year-old scored a ton in his debut against West Indies in Rajkot in October and followed it up with a quick 70-run knock in the second Test. For his performance, the youngster was awarded the man-of-the-series award.
Unfortunately, Shaw suffered an ankle injury and had to be taken off the field during the Practice Test. He was later ruled out from the first Test and remains in doubt from the second Test due to a ligament injury. Despite the setback and his inexperience, Shaw remains one of the rising stars in the Indian camp and the Australian dugout will keep their eyes on his return.
Usman Khawaja (Australia)
“I’m going with him to be the leading run scorer and man of the series.” This is what former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said about Usman Khawaja when asked who will be the leading scorer in the series. Interestingly, Ponting placed Khwaja above Kohli. The left-handed batsman has grown to become a solid Test batsman over the years. Despite facing criticism over his inability to convert 50s into 100s, the batsman showed he can play the role of holding the fort for Australia, in the recently concluded two-match Test series against Pakistan in Dubai in October. The batsman scored 141 runs in the first Test and ensured a draw for the Aussies from a precarious position.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Khawaja suffered an injury and could not perform to his best in the 2nd Test. He could not even come out to bat in the 2nd innings, and Australia lost the match. Indian bowlers will not take Khawaja lightly and will look to exploit his weakness against swing bowling.
Cheteshwar Pujara (India)
Cheteshwar Pujara has gained popularity as India’s best batsman in the longest format overseas. In 28 Tests away from home, Pujara has scored 1,688 runs at an average of 35.91 with 5 centuries and 5 fifties to his name. But despite all his plaudits, the year 2018 has not panned out for him the way the Indian camp would have wanted. In 7 overseas Tests, the 30-year-old has scored just one century in England. He also has never scored a century in Australia, with 73 being his highest score.
Going into the series, the right-handed batsman would be eager to reach the landmark this time around. He displayed his form with a well-made half-century in the Practice Test, and Aussies cannot afford to take him lightly owing to a decline in his form. On his day, Pujara has the ability to dig in deep and save India from precarious positions.
Mitchell Marsh (Australia)
Mitchell Marsh is one of the most divisive batsmen in Australia. Despite his heroics in Ashes series, where he scored two centuries, the left-handed batsman has often been criticised for his inconsistency in the longest format. Marsh returned from an injury after nine months in December 2017 to face England and struck 181. In the next match, he scored 101 in the next match to silence the critics. A few months later, the 27-year-old went on to struck a well-made 96 in South Africa.
Since then, the form has dipped for the left-handed and a poor showing against Pakistan in UAE, where he could only score 30 runs at an average of 7.5 in two Tests prompted fans to demand his axing. In response, Marsh went on to score 151 in a first-class match for Western Australian a week later. Now, he will be taking on the responsibility of Tim Paine’s second-in-command in the series. Marsh just has an average of 26.08 in 30 Tests. But his ability to fight back whenever he is pushed around a corner makes him one of the key players for Australia to watch out for.