India v Australia: Six players to watch out for

With the focus now shifting on to the four-Test series between India and Australia, we pick three players from each side who would make an impact on the contest.

Four double centuries in four successive series — not even the great Don Bradman could do it. The Indian skipper has been having a golden run. Some of the numbers he has achieved in batting are barely believable. In seven months, his batting average has swelled from 44 to 51. In 12 Tests last year, Kohli scored 1215 runs at an average of 75.93 — the highest by any batsman who has made at least 500 runs. Centuries hardly excite him these days, and he doesn’t even remove his helmet when he reaches the landmark. “I have always wanted to play long innings and my first seven or eight hundreds were not even 120-plus scores,” he told recently. “After that I made a conscious effort to bat long and control my excitement or not be complacent at any stage.” As captain, he fights back when the team is on the backfoot and goes for the knockout when the opposition stumbles. He will be the biggest thorn in Australia’s flesh. Photo: THE HINDU
The Border-Gavaskar series have been milestones in Ashwin’s career. After taking 14 wickets in four Tests, at an average of 52.64, in India’s 2-1 defeat to England at home in 2012, Ashwin bounced back in the following series against Australia. He had a series haul of 29 wickets at 20.10 to facilitate India’s 4-0 thrashing of Australia. The next Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia in 2014 led to Ashwin’s regeneration. After a tweak to his action in that series, Ashwin bowled better than he ever did. From then on, he has, in 21 Tests, picked up 130 wickets at an astonishing average of 21.13. With a captain who encourages attacking bowling, Ashwin has run through the line-ups of the visiting teams during India’s unbeaten run at home. Australia has been watching his videos to study his bowling. It has also hired spin experts to prepare for Ashwin’s challenge. However, Australia’s inexperienced batting line-up will have to quickly master the conditions and read Ashwin well to prevent him from having another successful Border-Gavaskar series at home. Photo: THE HINDU
One of the major blemishes in India’s 19-match unbeaten run has been the sporadic success of its openers. Since India’s last Test defeat in August 2015, it has tried out eight opening combinations. Barring the 152-run stand between K. L. Rahul and Parthiv Patel in Chennai in December, none of the other pairs could manage a century stand. Murali Vijay has been part of five of the eight aforementioned opening pairs. Against the Aussies, Kohli would expect a better performance from his openers. And much would hinge on Vijay, for he has scored 1162 runs in 10 matches at 61.15 against them. He would hope for better returns this year than the 550 runs (at 36.6) in 10 matches in 2016. “I did forward press against England in a couple of Tests and it did not work for me. I was getting into trouble when the ball bounced,” Vijay said after the England series. “Then I got back to my usual back and across movement.” The adjustment seems to have worked, as he started 2017 with a hundred against Bangladesh. His contests against Mitchell Starc and company should make for good viewing. Photo: THE HINDU
Lyon’s Australian summer, with 17 wickets in six matches, would have ended early had he not delivered a few crucial blows against Pakistan. Despite a late, little surge in form, the figures are mediocre. He averages the worst in Asia at 42.57 (as opposed to his career average of 34.07). But Lyon is Australia’s primary spinner and its most experienced player. Even though he hasn’t played in any of the four venues — Pune, Bengaluru, Ranchi and Dharamsala — of the upcoming series, he will be more equipped to handle the conditions than he did on his first tour of India. He has been bowling as much as he can to right-handers Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh in Australia’s training camp in Dubai. He has also been watching videos of Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling to replicate his success. Can he emulate or outdo his counterpart by studying him? Let’s wait and watch. Photo: AFP
The Australian skipper knows the difficulty of winning a Test series in India. Some of his illustrious predecessors have tried and failed to this end. “A win on this tour would be huge with the Ashes coming. If there is a tied series, that would be a huge tick for you! Absolutely a huge tick,” Smith said recently of the impending tour. The Australian team is stocked with newbies. The thrashing of Pakistan at home, after a string of losses, might have buoyed Smith’s conviction in his team. But facing a team that has been decimating opponents at home, he has reasons to be more concerned than confident. For Australia to win, Smith, the batsman, will have to subdue the vicious Indian spinners. He accumulated 769 runs in the last four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, averaging over 128. But Smith’s average in Asia, especially India, is considerably lesser than his career average. The World No. 1 batsman will look to conquer India and affirm his place among the all-time greats. Photo: AFP
There isn’t much to talk about Mitchell Starc’s only Test tour of India in 2013 — about his bowling at least. In Mohali, he hit 99 — his highest score in Tests — that propelled Australia to over 400 in the first innings. But his cumulative spell of 58.3 overs in Mohali and Chennai fetched only two wickets, which helped Australia very little in its attempt to avert a 4-0 whitewash. Against India, Starc averages 40.15 with the ball. But these figures obscure the fast bowler’s abilities. In 2015 and 2016, he piled up 96 wickets in 19 Tests that made him the leader of the Aussie attack. In the three-match series on spin-friendly surfaces in Sri Lanka last year, he was only four scalps behind the leading wicket-taker Rangana Herath (28 wickets). A lot hinges on Starc if Australia has to win its first Test in India since 2004. Photo: AFP