Best Chance? Yes. But Can India Really Win Test Series in Aus?

Just as it is unwise for batsmen to chase wide balls outside off, it is inadvisable to look ahead and predict things in cricket. Commentators/observers/experts have bitten the dust trying to decipher pitch behaviour. Pundits and players have realised it’s better to do 'well left' than guess the result of a match. Both understand it is prudent not to stick neither neck nor tongue out in cricket.

But this is election time and pollsters are busy peering into their crystal balls to assess the prospects of candidates. This is also game time, and with India and Australia facing-off in the Test series opener at Adelaide, there is no getting away from speculating about the rubber. Cricket's satta bazaar – it's Sensex – is in overdrive, setting the odds on India's chances.

Also Read: Trends Suggest Australia Need to Worry About Indian Pacers

There are sound reasons to call the game in India's favour because the overall hawa is blowing in that direction. Australia is at half strength without David Warner and Steve Smith – the Shah Rukh and Salman Khan of their batting line-up – and Usman Khawaja, another proven number, is hampered by an iffy hamstring.

India, meanwhile, are buoyant, riding mainly on captain Virat Kohli's astonishing record, current form and his strong desire to win. That India's pace attack has fire (Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah) and finesse (Bhuvi, Shami) is another factor. Experts, some sitting firmly on the fence, feel India will win. However, their prediction is the 'conditions apply' kind of optimism with many ifs and buts.

“In these calculations, an India win is on the cards, provided, provided, provided...”

India is riding mainly on captain Virat Kohli’s (extreme right) astonishing record and pace attack that includes Ishant Sharma (second from right) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (third from right).

Considering all odds/arguments/hard evidence, it is difficult to see Virat's team returning with the Border-Gavaskar trophy as checked-in baggage.

Why India May Not Win

  • History is against India – the team is without a series win in Australia in 70 years.
  • Recent overseas record of the team is against India – the miserable Test result in England is fresh in everyone's memory.
  • Recent form of Indian batsmen does not inspire confidence – barring of course Kohinoor Kohli, no Indian batsman is in any kind of touch. When it comes to batting consistency, Virat is a one-man army – triumphant in all formats, all countries and against all oppositions.
    Murali Vijay is returning to Tests after being dropped midway during the last series. Rahul is annoyingly inconsistent for someone so obviously talented. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane seem to be carrying scars of being benched not too far back. Rohit Sharma, the white-ball master till now, is only a peripheral player at the Test level.
    Most worrying is the brittle character of the unsettled top order. Shikhar has lost his place, Vijay is in the middle of a career-threatening crisis and Prithvi Shaw is injured and unproven overseas.

Prithvi Shaw had to be carried off the field after injuring his left ankle on Day 3 of India’s warm-up game against CA XI at Sydney.

Also Read: In Stats: Australia Still a Stiff Challenge for Top-Ranked India

  • Tradition works against India – while it is important to seize momentum and start well, Indians normally stumble in the first Test and are pushed back, both figuratively and psychologically.
  • Conditions are against India – bouncy tracks have undone India so many times. Batsmen used to hitting on the up through the line come to grief with balls getting big on them. The Aussies have the firepower to serve a hot dose to Indian batsmen.

Here is Why the Aussies Could Ruin India's Party

1) Cricket is their national identity: Which is why underestimating an Australian side, however depleted, is a mistake. The Aussies are missing top batsmen but the playing eleven won't be short on pride or intent. Playing at home, in conditions they know well, they will come hard at the Indian team.

2) Pace is Australia's strength: Though 'sandpaper gate' wiped out the top batting order, the bowling unit remains undisturbed. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Patrick Cummins are a handful who will ask awkward questions. When England caught India in testing conditions this summer, not many had answers. Faced by a similar challenge, the result could be no different in Australia.

3) Aussies have a point to prove – hunger will drive performance: The openings in the team and coaching staff – resulting from the cricket crisis – is an opportunity thrown up by adversity. For Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh, this could be the career-defining moment, their big chance to grab the lottery on offer. Same for other young batsmen, who get lucky to bag the 'baggy green'.

Sourav Ganguly and Brian Lara have put their money on India in the four-match Test series largely because of Australian cricket's self-goals. Other past greats also see this as India's big chance to get the better of the Aussies.

Of course, Australian legends hold a contrary view – they predict victory, confident the team will rise to the occasion and redeem themselves in the eyes of their fans and countrymen. Perhaps the last word – the best analysis – has come from former captain Ian Chappell, an astute observer. Australia will win, he concluded, after carefully examining all angles. Asked why, his answer was disarmingly honest – “Don't know, that's my gut feel!”

Despite majority opinion heavily in India's favour, Australia could surprise Kohli's team.

Also Read: Rewind: How India Fared in Their Last 5 Test Series in Australia

(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1.The views expressed above are of the author’s alone and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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