The famous 2001 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was a pivotal year for Indian cricket. For it was the series a new India emerged thwarting dominant Australia in their pursuit to conquer ‘The Final Frontier’. Even though Adam Gilchrist and Co. achieved it in 2004, 19 years later, Australia are on the Indian shores for another riveting Border-Gavaskar series, but this time it is not to conquer a bastion – far from it – what they will be eying, or rather hoping for, is redemption.
India are the proud holder of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, in fact, Australia have failed to claim it for three series in a row now, two of them at home. The Gabba Miracle where India breached the Australian fortress at Brisbane might be two years ago, but memories of that stellar comeback are still afresh. “It hurts” – then captain Tim Paine had said of the series loss.
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It would still be hurting this Australian outfit led currently by the quintessential poster boy of cricket – Pat Cummins.
Even since taking over the captaincy reigns, Cummins has hardly put a foot wrong. In 13 matches he has won eight, losing only one at Galle with four others ending in a draw. This series will prove to be the toughest challenge yet for the 29-year-old’s young captaincy career.
Incidentally, for Rohit Sharma, even with this all-compassing Indian team who are on the verge of being the No.1 team across all formats, provided they ransack Australia in the series, this a series of utmost importance. Ever since taking charge as the all-formats captain, Rohit has missed three Tests out of the five India have played; in fact, Rohit has featured in only two of the last ten Tests India played.
This will be his sternest Test, or so we can assume, but more than that, it is a chance for Rohit to move so close to that elusive ICC Trophy. The World Test Championship sub-plot is an interesting carrot dangling for the Indian captain. The equation is simple: Best Australia 3-0 and enter the final of the WTC to be played from 7th to 11th at the Oval against their current opponents.
A series whitewash on the cards?
And in that slightest of details comes this ‘Devil May Care’ approach of the Indian team in the build-up to the series on pitches and conditions. It’s the cost of winning at all costs and not just a win but a series whitewash that will put to rest any doubts about India’s WTC qualification. A 3-1 win will be enough for India, but by the looks of it India are not going to take that chance and that brings in the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Jamtha, and its track into the picture.
A dry pitch with brown patches enough for the left-arm spinners to exploit against left-handers. India have three left-arm tweakers at their disposal and Australia could potentially field six southpaws in their top eight – Do that math.
And here’s a bit of math – between Ashwin and Jadeja – the tweakers have 99 wickets between them against Australia in India. Axar Patel averages 12.43 at home. And in all likelihood, these three will feature prominently in the 1st Test, even in the entire series.
“Looks a little bit dry for the left-handers and knowing how much traffic will probably go through there from the right-arm bowlers, potentially might be a fair bit of rough out there,” Cummins reiterated what Steve Smith had observed a day earlier. And to make the most of the patch – India have not one, not two but three left-arm tweakers – add to that a left-arm seamer in Jaydev Unadkat.
Can India Rest Easy?
However, the Indian camp cannot rest easy with the advantage of favourable conditions themselves. They have a big void at No.6 to fill and the No.5 is still not locked in. India’s top-order travails with spin will also come into the picture when a certain Nathan Lyon brings in his drift, loop and tight lines.
Rohit’s last Test was in March 2022, and KL Rahul has not gone past 23 in his past seven innings. Kohli averages a mere 26 against spin in the last 22 innings and moreover has fallen to the tweakers 12 times – six each to left-armers and right-armers. The former skipper’s last Test hundred remains the 136 he scored at the Eden Gardens vs Bangladesh in India’s first day-night Test match.
India’s bright spots in the Test in recent times, especially against spin – Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant are both unavailable and that is where India’s big problem rests. Suryakumar Yadav may well be a white-ball mercenary and but his FC average is 44.75 – a passable one among other Indian domestic run machines. If he gets a nod, he will be on debut.
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Then comes the Pant Void. It’s a black hole and Srikar Bharat will be hoping he does not get sucked into oblivion in it. Bharat is an excellent wicketkeeper – a glimpse of which was on display at Kanpur against New Zealand when he came on as a substitute for Wriddhamn Saha and returned with two superb catches and a neat stumping on a slow and low track.
But the worry for India is the batting – the Pant Impetus, the Pant Intent, the Pant Aggression which was one of the biggest factors in India’s last two series win against Australia.
“The message to the boys has been very clear. We are ready to play horses for courses. On whichever pitch, whosoever we need we have to bring them in. As simple as that. That is something that we have spoken to the guys at the start of the series and we will continue to do that,” Rohit said of the selection conundrum on the pre-match day.
The Horses for Course reference could very well be for an Axar coming in for Kuldeep Yadav and SKY getting the nod ahead of Gill.
Cummins said his team is ready to embrace the challenge and enjoy it. But with redemption on their minds and conditions as alien as it can get for them, the skipper has to put up a brave face, because India will come hard, as hard as possible with a plan to dismantle the Aussies with spin, more spin and a bit more.
PS: India’s current stretch of three Border-Gavaskar wins is the best India ever had. Australia had won three series in a row twice – from 1947-1959 and 1967-1977.
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