After a solid diet of white-ball cricket, it’s time to feast on the longest form of the game.
The battle for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy gets underway in Nagpur on February 9, with a spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) final at stake for both teams.
The Aussies regard success in a series against India as essential in establishing themselves as an all-conquering Test unit. Winning in India will once again be the “final frontier” as 19 years and four Test tours have passed since Australia left the shores triumphant.
The Border-Gavaskar Trophy contests aren’t a warm-up for the Ashes anymore, reflecting the new order in the game. Like the Australia-England series, India and Australia will figure only in five-Test jousts hereafter and the upcoming series will be the final four-Test skirmish.
The expectation, entertainment and excellence accompanying the India-Australia face-offs have given them a special place in the Test hierarchy. That the two sides have met each other eight times in the last four years shows the value and importance both attach to the rivalry. There will be five Tests between the two this year alone if both make it to the WTC summit clash.
The series, ready for lift off, promises to establish Pat Cummins’ legacy as Test captain. Though he has an amazing pace-bowling depth and a prolific top-order at his disposal, a quick look at the squad list shows that the visitor can ill- afford injury casualties in the dug-out.
Mitchell Starc is already unavailable for the first Test as he recovers from a middle finger injury while all-rounder Cameron Green is racing against time to be fit after fracturing his right index finger.
Australia does have the young uncapped quick Lance Morris in reserve, but he is not familiar with the Indian conditions.
The Australian batters will be wary of Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. They were razed to the ground by left-arm finger spinner Prabath Jayasuriya during their last Test outing in Sri Lanka in July 2022. That said, Australia itself will have fond memories of left-armer Steve O’Keefe tormenting India in Tests in 2017, grabbing 19 wickets and finishing as the third highest wicket-taker.
This time, Australia will be keen to unleash Ashton Agar from the get-go. Leggie Mitchell Swepson will add variety while offie Todd Murphy will be waiting in the wings, eager to get his baggy green cap.
India, too, has its share of injury setbacks. Jasprit Bumrah will miss the first two Tests and Shreyas Iyer has been ruled out of the first game as he continues rehab for a back injury. The absence of Rishabh Pant, recovering from a horrific car accident, could be a telling blow.
India would expect Jadeja to play the disruptor role in the lower middle-order, a job done by Pant with gumption in Test whites.
Australia and India will play four Tests in just over a month’s time at Nagpur, Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad as Cummins and his men search for a second series win in India in 50 years. India has hosted Australia in 14 Test series and enjoys an 8-4 lead, with two series drawn. India has won each of the last three Test series: at home in 2016-17, and away in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
An India-Australia series evokes high emotion and is not just about skill and fitness. It has become an advertisement for all that’s exciting and enthralling about cricket’s oldest format. The immediate instalment promises all this and more. Strap up and get ready for the ride.