The defining rivalry of 21st century Test cricket. The most fiercely-contested duel in the longest format of the game in recent decades. The stage which gave the world Kolkata 2001, Sydney 2008, Mohali 2010 and Adelaide 2014, to name just a cherry-picked few.
A travelling Indian caravan which hit the road in January this year seeking history, only to fall to familiar failing in both South Africa and England, has now reached Australia – to most observers, Virat Kohli and team will never find a better opportunity to end the country’s 71-year barren run Down Under.
That’s right: In 11 Test series in Australia, India have won zero.
They now take on the new-look bearers of the Baggy Green, fighting a cultural storm, and the baggage of Messrs Smith and Warner.
The latest edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is kicking off, and it looks as intriguing as any prior chapter.
A shaky batting order: The thread that ties Australia and India together in this year, otherwise a tale of contrasting fortunes for both teams. India have scars from South Africa and England, Australia have crater-shaped voids called David Warner and Steven Smith. And so it comes as little surprise that both units have opted for batting cover.
The hosts have kept Mitchell Marsh – their vice-captain – out of their XI, preferring the solidity of Peter Handscomb to Marsh’s all-round capabilities. They also appear to have paid heed to Ricky Ponting’s call to have Usman Khawaja bat at three, and 26-year-old Marcus Harris will open the batting on Test debut alongside Aaron Finch.
The visitors, dented by the absence of their own all-rounder in Hardik Pandya, have foregone the ‘five-bowler theory’ professed vehemently by Kohli and Ravi Shastri when they first formed their union, on these shores itself, four years ago.
One out of Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari will bat at No. 6 for India, who have kept Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav on the bench among the pacers, with R Ashwin carrying the spin-bowling mantle.
Australia: Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c & wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
India: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari/Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah.
Scene of Play
Almost the scene of an inadvertent controversy, even before India arrived Down Under. For the last three years, the Adelaide Oval has been proud host to day-night Tests – including the first-ever day-nighter in Test history in 2015 – but the BCCI’s adamant position against pink-ball cricket meant there couldn’t be a flood-lit Test on the menu this Australian summer.
It irked certain sections of the Aussie media, but fortunately that was all – and so the ground which Sir Don Bradman called home will go back to its original setting.
Heat is a common feature in South Australia at this point of the year, and the sun is likely to be an omnipresent through the Test. With the wicket reportedly not loaded with grass a day prior to the game, spin is likely to come into the picture in the latter stages of the game.
The last time Adelaide hosted a Test with no lights, the opposition was the same – and it was a modern-day classic.
Virat Kohli’s first Test as India captain saw him take to the post, and the venue, like a duck to water with two majestic hundreds in the series opener four years ago. India’s pursuit of a 364-run target on the final day was well on track at 242/2, only for Nathan Lyon to trigger heart-break with a seven-for to finish with match figures of 12/286.
India do have happy memories from the ground, the scene of one of their most famous overseas triumphs in 2003. In 14 appearances at the Adelaide Oval since, Australia have tasted defeat just once.
India’s overall numbers in Australia may inspire little confidence – five wins in 44 Tests, and none in their last nine since 2008.
Recent form, though, is stacked heavily in favour of the visitors, despite 2018 being their worst year by a distance since Kohli took over the reins. 1-2 and 1-4 reversals in South Africa and England, respectively, mean India enter the four-Test series with more losses than wins in Tests this year (6 losses, 5 wins in 11 matches).
But such is Australia’s plight over the ongoing calendar, that India still compare rather favourably. Amid a year of bedlam, the Aussies have managed to win just twice in 7 Tests – neither of those coming in the three matches they have played since Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft decided to do what they did at Cape Town in March.
Tim Paine: There has been so much talk in the last ten months that everyone is sick of it. There has been so much talk, it’s time for action. There are 11 guys going out and trying their best who will be so keen because of what has gone on.
Virat Kohli: I personally don’t think any Australian side is weak at home. You definitely can’t take any side for granted, and more so Australia in Australia. Regardless of all the things that have gone by, the skill level is still there.
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