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India seek to extend dominant streak

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-02-2017
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Of their last 20 home Tests, going back to December 2012, India have won 17 and drawn three. In the past decade, Australia have played ten Tests in India, losing eight and drawing the rest. If those numbers are to be viewed as a guide, then Steven Smith’s Australian team are no-hopers for the first Test starting at this abandoned UFO of a venue on the far reaches of Pune. Cricket is seldom that simple though, and India certainly won’t be oblivious to the threat posed by a side that can call on the talents of David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Smith himself.

But for a hard slog in Rajkot, where they lost the toss on an utterly placid pitch, India have enjoyed the perfect home season. This is their opportunity to streak further clear at the top of the Test rankings, and a dry, slow pitch baked by relentless sunshine – temperatures in the mid-30s are unusual for February – should play right into their hands when the first Test of the four-match series starts on Thursday (February 23).

It should also bring Jayant Yadav back into the XI, at the expense of either Ishant Sharma or Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Jayant starred with both bat and ball in the three Tests he played against England – scoring a century from No. 9 in Mumbai – and should be potent support for R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja against a line-up that has more than a few left-hand batsmen.

There will be no tinkering with the batting line-up, though concerns remain about the opening partnership. M Vijay and KL Rahul have now opened together 12 times, and they average 18.91 with a highest association of 52. Both men have made runs at various points throughout the season, but their inability to gel in partnership is something the team management will surely be keeping tabs on.

Australia have opening woes of their own. Matt Renshaw made 184 in his last Test innings, but is a newbie in this part of the world. But despite twin failures in the warm-up game in Mumbai, he looks likely to get the nod ahead of Usman Khawaja, whose past record in Asia inspires little confidence.

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Smith and Peter Handscomb will join the Marsh brothers in the middle order. Shaun Marsh’s displays in Sri Lanka, and experience of Indian conditions – he made a century in the practice match – means a chance to resurrect a career that has seen just 19 Test caps in more than five years.

Mitchell Marsh averages 23 with the bat and 37 with the ball after the same number of games. He did well in patches in Sri Lanka, on a disastrous tour for Australia, but the selection owes more to the obsession most teams now have with having an allrounder in the side.

Photos: India vs Australia Tests - Records that matter

India vs Australia Tests: Records that matter

On their previous tour of India in 2013, Australia struggled to keep the runs down, as India rattled along at 3.72 to the over. MS Dhoni set the tone with an epic double-century in Chennai, and the likes of Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan then piled on the misery.

The very fact that Australia were even considering a third spinner, at the expense of the immaculately accurate Josh Hazlewood, suggested too much focus on India’s strengths rather than their own. Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe took a fair bit of punishment in the tour game, and Australia’s best hope remains the new-ball pairing of Starc and Hazlewood, both of whom are capable of an impact with the softer ball as well.

They will be tasked with subduing a line-up that has crossed 600 in each of its last three matches. Virat Kohli alone has made 1206 runs in the ongoing home season. Away assignments don’t come much tougher than this.

Teams (likely)
India: M Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Australia: David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Steven Smith (capt), Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade (wk), Steve O’Keefe, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

Watch: 'Virat Kohli could equal Clive Lloyd's record'

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