Nagpur, Feb 8: India and Australia meet for the first Test at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium here from Thursday with a lot at stake for both the teams in the four-match series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Australia has not won a series in India since 2004 and before that, they had returned disappointed in the country for more than three decades. But more galling for the Australians is the fact that India has won the last three editions of the Border-Gavaskar Series -- twice in Australia. The last time India lost a series to Australia was in 2014-15.
Thus for the Australians, a series against India has been the final frontier for decades and if things go as planned by the Indians, it is probably going to remain the unconquered summit for the next few years.
The Australians are expecting the hosts to lay out a spin minefield at each of the four venues and as of now, it appears that their worst nightmares are likely to come true as soon as the proceedings start in the first Test at the VCA Ground in Jamtha near Nagpur on Thursday.
So, when Australia skipper Pat Cummins sat down for the customary match-eve tete-a-tete with the media at noon on Wednesday, the talk was majorly about the spinning track, dry wicket and how huge a challenge it would be for his team considering they have not won a series in India for nearly two decades.
But Cummins said his team will not be carrying any extra baggage of expectations over that issue.
“No, This team is different from all the teams that have played in the past so we are hearing about the wins and we are hearing talk of losses. We know it is tough to tour India -- they are a really good cricket side, especially at home and we are excited and we will give it our best shot,” said Cummins on Wednesday.
The Australians have packed their side with spinners -- four of them including rookie Todd Murphy, but their hopes will rest on Nathan Lyon, who has the best strike rate among recent foreign spinners to bowl in India. But the Aussies have always relied on their pace battery to trouble the Indians and will be planning to do so. Cummins said they have more or less decided on the playing XI, though he did not reveal whether the visitors will go into the Nagpur Test with three pacers and two spinners or stack up the spin department.
But their resources on the pace front are limited, depleted by the injury to Josh Hazlewood, who has not recovered fully from an Achilles problem sustained during Australia’s Test against South Africa in Sydney last month. Fellow pacer Mitchell Starc is already out of the opener while pace-bowling allrounder Cameron Green -- Matthew Renshaw is set to fill in for Green -- is also ruled out of the Nagpur Test.
Scott Boland and Lance Morris are expected to partner Pat Cummins if the visitors decide to go in with three pacers. They will then have to take a call on the second spinner to partner Lyon and though Cummins refused to reveal the combination there are chances that Australia will blood young offie Todd Murphy in Nagpur, with skipper Cummins saying that two off-spinners can be successful against the right-handers packed in the Indian squad.
While the visitors are tackling their troubles, the Indians have their own challenges to overcome when they take the field on Thursday. The series is a must-win for the Indians not only to maintain their record at home but also to clinch their berth in the World Test Championship Final. Australia are already assured of a spot in the WTC final while winning the Border-Gavaskar Series 2-0 or 3-0 will also seal India’s berth.