Venue: Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Nagpur
Date: Thursday, February 9 to Monday, February 13
Australia is in India for the second part of a cricket tour after a gap of nearly five months. The two sides played a white ball series in September 2022 when they faced off in three T20Is as part of both countries’ warmups for the 2022 T20I World Cup. It was a series India won 2-1, but it is so long ago that it is almost meaningless now.
This second leg of the tour is much more involved. The two will face off in four Test matches over the course of the next month, battling for the Border-Gavaskat Trophy (currently held by India). Three ODIs will immediately follow the Tests, with Australia ending the tour here on March 22.
India’s main injury issues for the first Test are a pair of batsmen in Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. Iyer is still out with a back injury that he can’t seem to get right, while Pant is considered lucky to be alive after a fiery car crash at the end of 2022 that will take some time to recover from.
Pant will be a huge miss as his ability to counterattack with the bat and change the game in one session is unique in the Indian lineup. He gives the team a sense of balance as he is rarely dismissed cheaply, and that role will have to be covered elsewhere.
Look for Ravi Ashwin to lead the bowling attack with his own brand of smart cricket as he pokes and prods the Aussies into a mistake.
The Aussies will be down some of the strike power in their bowling attack for at least the first Test. They have known that Mitchell Starc will be missing for over a month, with the left-arm fast ruled out through a finger injury. With Starc already out of the lineup, the last thing they needed was more bowling attrition, but Josh Hazlewood was lost on Sunday with an Achilles injury.
The rash of injuries to frontline pace bowls will require their assault to be reshuffled. This means that Scott Boland looks set to make his Test debut away from Aussie shores. This is especially likely given that Cam Green is also out of the bowling mix (though he could still play in the first Test as a batsman only. This is certainly an area to watch and consider before placing any bet on the first Test.
Don’t be shocked if the Aussies opt for a pair of spinners with their pacers depleted. If that is the case, then Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar would seem like the two obvious choices in what are likely to be spin-friendly conditions.
History is on the side of India here. Australia has only won one Text series in the country in 50 years, and only four ever. Both teams have betted well of late, and this pitch looks more run-friendly than you traditionally find on the subcontinent. I wouldn’t be shocked if this ends in a draw as both teams try to feel each other out to become more attacking in Tests two, three, and four.