After the drama of the last few weeks, and the drama of the last eight and a half months, the Australian Cricket Team finally has a chance to prove the critics of Cricket Australia, and of the Australian Cricket Team wrong by defeating the world’s best Test match team, the Indian Cricket Team led by the great Virat Kohli over the course of a four-match test series.
But, will they? And, can India conquer their final frontier, and win a test series against Australia on Australian soil?
As far as the Australia Cricket Team is concerned, they come into this test series under extreme pressure, and after a time of unbelievable and unthinkable turmoil, both for Cricket Australia and the team itself after the Ball Tampering Scandal at Newlands in Cape Town, the subsequent punishments of Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, and the huge uproar (regardless of your thoughts about what happened, the punishments dished out, and the culture of the team, and of Cricket Australia as an organisation) that it caused among former players, the media, and the fans of not just the Australian Cricket Team, but of cricket as a whole.
In addition to this, the Australian Cricket Team has a new captain in Tim Paine, a new coach in Justin Langer, and Cricket Australia has had an administrative clean-out of sorts, although there is muted debate as to whether that has gone far enough, and whether the punishments of “the banished three” have gone too far, taking into consideration all aspects of the situation, including various factors, sensitive factors even that I might touch upon at a later date.
And, while all of the attention has been on how the Australian batsmen will perform in this series, the blowtorch must be turned towards the Australian bowlers of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, and their rather cocky attitudes heading into this series, a series which could define their careers and their futures within the Australian Cricket Team at test match level.
Their recent form at test match level has been just off their career averages in general. Since the start of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, with the exception of Pat Cummins, who has taken 45 wickets in nine test matches at an average of 23.08 during this time compared to a career average of 23.81, all of Australia’s bowlers have an average worse than their career average, with Starc (38 wickets at 29.15 in nine tests, compared to 28.52), Lyon (49 wickets at 34.28 in 11 tests, compared to 32.21), and most worrying Hazlewood (33 wickets at 30.75 in nine tests, compared to 26.84).
While it doesn’t sound like much, over a long four-match test series like this one, it could prove the difference between Australia winning this test series (thus regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy), or losing/not winning this test series if this pattern continues, especially if you believe the Indian batting line-up is stronger than the Australian batting line-up. The Australian bowlers must lift to a whole new level if Australia is to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, or risked having egg all over their faces, and losing their tags as “the chosen ones” of Australian cricket, particularly the three fast bowlers in Starc, Hazlewood, and Cummins.
The Australian bowlers need assistance in order for them to do a successful job against India, and this assistance must come from Mitchell Marsh.
Marsh, at the age of 27, must start living up to his potential as Australia’s next great all-rounder, or risk being labelled as the greatest underachiever Australian cricket has ever produced. Marsh has scored 1200 runs at an average of just 26.08 across 30 test matches, and taken 35 wickets at an average of 42.45, and really for someone who has been tagged as Australia’s next great all-rounder, it is simply diabolical.
Marsh should be approaching a batting average of close to 40, and a bowling average of closer to 30 at this stage of his career, and in this series, Marsh should be averaging double his current batting average, and half of his current bowling average. If he fails in this regard, Australia could be headed for a historic series defeat, and his international career could be over.
It is a make or break series for Mitchell Marsh!
And, what makes it even more make or break for Marsh is that Usman Khawaja, who has scored 565 runs at an average of 47.88 in seven test matches in 2018, is coming into this series underdone after tearing the meniscus in his knee in Abu Dhabi, subsequently undergoing surgery to repair the injury, and on his return, Khawaja made 41 and 18 for Queensland in the last Sheffield Shield match against Victoria.
So, I think the pressure will be on Mitchell Marsh, as well as his brother Shaun Marsh, captain Tim Paine, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marcus Harris, and Peter Handscomb to be more productive with the bat in this series, and compared to previous performances in their careers if Australia stand to be a chance of regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
So then we get to the Indian Cricket Team, and their inspirational leader Virat Kohli, who has now scored over 1000 Test match runs for the third-successive calendar year, and is just eight runs away from scoring 1000 test match runs in Australia, will be the key player who will determine whether India wins in Australia for the first time or not.
India have drawn three of their 11 test series against Australia in Australia, drawing 1-1 in 1980/81, 0-0 in 1985/86, and 1-1 in 2003/04 in what was the then-Australian captain Steve Waugh’s final test series, scoring 80 in his final test innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground to help Australia save the final test match of that series to avoid an historic test series defeat at home.
Since Kohli has started batting in the nets in Adelaide, the word/visual evidence coming out suggests that Kohli is seeing and hitting the ball superbly, perhaps the best he has in his entire career to date, and most certainly ominous signs if you are the Australian Cricket Team.
However, you sense Kohli needs some support as well from his fellow batsmen, in particular his vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who has scored 605 runs in nine test matches at an average of 40.33 against Australia, just below his career average of 41.40, and only needs one run to score 400 test match runs in Australia, but also Cheteshwar Pujara, who has scored 4905 runs in 64 test matches at an average of 49.54 in his career, and is currently India’s second-leading run-scorer in 2018, but has only scored 509 runs in 10 test matches at an average of 31.81, 554 runs behind Kohli’s tally of 1063 runs at an average of 59.05 in the same number of test matches in 2018.
In addition to this, Pujara has a poor record against Australia in Australia, scoring 201 runs in three test matches at an average of 33.50, so needs a big tour, like Rahane, to help assist Kohli in getting India enough runs to starve off the threat from Australia.
The bowling attack from India is probably the best they have ever had as a collective group, with the ability to chose from the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav.
In all likelihood, India will pick five of those eight bowlers for two or three of the test matches in this series, with three fast bowlers (out of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav), and two spin bowlers (out of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Kuldeep Yadav) the likely combination, but regardless of who India pick as their bowlers, I think they can match or better the output of the current Australian bowling attack.
This leads me to my series prediction, and my gut feel tells me that India are going to do it! They are going to conquer their final frontier, and defeat Australia in a test match series in Australia.
I think India will win the first test match of the series in Adelaide, but I think Australia, under the most intense scrutiny from the media, fans and legends of the game, will hit back in the inaugural test match at the Optus Stadium in Perth to level the series heading into the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
However, just like last year against England, the Boxing Day Test will turn into a lifeless draw, generating a massive crisis within Australian cricket in regards to the drop-in pitches at the MCG, and a massive crisis within world cricket in general in regards to the performance and suitability of drop-in pitches, despite the fact the drop-in pitches in both Adelaide and Perth performed extremely well.
This all leads into the final test match of the series, the Pink Test Match in support of the McGrath Foundation at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), and a calculated gamble (which will be widely panned from the media, experts, and fans before the match) from the Indian selectors, in consultation with captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, will lead to three specialist spinners being selected, and India bamboozling Australia on a traditional SCG pitch to claim an historic series triumph.
In short, India will retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy!