media

Australia are formidable hosts

Just two years ago, India travelled down under to play an Australia side in disarray.

The hosts were without both David Warner and Steve Smith, serving 12-month bans after the ball-tampering incident in South Africa earlier in 2018, and had won one Test match in six. They duly lost 2-1 to Virat Kohli’s side.

But Justin Langer’s side have improved markedly since.

Yes, they have question marks over their opening partnership for the first Test with Warner missing through injury, but the phenomenal Smith is back in rank, and has been partnered by mini-me Marnus Labuschagne in the middle order.

Combined with a pace trio of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc that has developed into one of the best attacks on the planet, it is little surprise that the Aussies have won seven consecutive home Tests, and retained the Ashes away from home in between.

India must be at the top of their game to even win a match in this series.

Smith v Labuschagne

Labuschagne is not only technically similar to Smith but seems to have on eye on his hero’s role as Australia’s chief run-maker, too.

The 26-year-old replaced Smith as a concussion substitute in England 16 months ago, and immediately made an impact, helping his side to draw the series.

It was the form he went on to produce months later, though – four centuries, one of which he doubled, in eight innings in the Australian summer – that suggested he is more than a supplement for Smith.

From a team perspective, fielding the pair of them at three and four is a dream scenario, but both of these stellar batsmen have reputations to uphold, too.

The idea that they might spur each other onto new heights must be keeping Virat Kohli awake at night.

Shubman Gill’s time to shine

Betway ambassador Kevin Pietersen wrote in his exclusive column recently that Shubman Gill ‘will make any team better’, so we can expect a solid top order performance from the Indians in this series.

Gill seems likely to replace Prithvi Shaw as Mayank Agarwal’s opening partner – and even if he doesn’t, Shaw’s dodgy form means that he has every chance of getting a game by the end of the series.

His scores in the warm-up matches – 0, 23, 43 and 65 – have increased time-on-time but it is his first-class average of 68.78 that really catches the eye. He has registered seven centuries in 38 first-class innings.

The 21-year-old has all the shots and enjoys pace on the ball, a perfect recipe for hard Australian tracks that tend to suit batsmen more than bowlers.

Kohli’s early departure

Kohli will depart home after the first Test of this series, so the impact he can have with the bat is limited.

Clearly, the India skipper will be desperate to make his mark on the first match, but the knock-on effects will be even more fascinating.

Ajinkya Rahane will step up to captain the side, despite having failed to pass 50 in any of his last seven innings in New Zealand and Australia. Will a struggling batsman lead India with the same authority as Kohli?

That also adds extra intrigue to the battle of the captains, too, with Australia’s Tim Paine hardly a star player for the hosts.

More than anything else, though, a tough job will be made tougher for the visitors without a world-class batsman who, on average, guarantees them 100 runs per match.

How they respond is what could decide the series.

Visit Betway's cricket betting page.