India v Australia First Test

Thursday February 23, 3:00pm AEDT

Australia begin one of the greatest challenges in world cricket when they take on India in the first of a four-match test series at Pune’s Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, starting on Thursday.


India cemented their place on the top of the ICC rankings with a resounding 4-0 series win over England at the end of 2016, followed by victory against Bangladesh in a one-off test two weeks ago which stretched their unbeaten run at home to a phenomenal 20 tests. Their success is epitomised by the form of their talismanic skipper Virat Kohli who has incredibly scored three double-centuries in his last six tests.

However the hosts’ batting is not solely reliant on their leader, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Lokesh Rahul all averaging in excess of 50 in 2016, leading to the stunning omission of Karun Nair after scoring an unbeaten triple-century against England in just his third test.

The spin-bowling duo of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have proved near-impossible to counter on their home pitches, however one should not underestimate the support provided by pace bowlers Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar who have toiled away admirably on largely unhelpful surfaces.

The Indian pace unit will miss Mohammed Shami who is still absent with a knee injury, while a knee complaint has also sidelined leg-spinner Amit Mishra, opening up an opportunity for left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.


Facing the herculean task of taking down India in their own backyard, the Australians have picked a spin-heavy squad featuring Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson and Glenn Maxwell. However it seems likely that only Lyon and O’Keefe will feature in Pune, although both will be under pressure to make their mark early with so many alternatives available to the selectors.

Young opener Matt Renshaw looks set to retain his place alongside vice-captain David Warner at the top of the order, while a century in the tour game against India A looks set to earn Shaun Marsh a place in the starting XI ahead of Usman Khawaja. Marsh’s brother Mitchell also looks primed for a recall to the problematic number six position after an impressive 75 against India A, while ‘keeper-batsman Matthew Wade shrugged off any injury concerns with a pugnacious 64 in the tour game, although the spotlight will remain on his inconsistent form behind the stumps.

The visitors will rely heavily on pace duo Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood who in the recent home summer claimed almost 60% of Australia’s wickets. With the bat, Australia’s fortunes will be largely shaped by the returns of their own skipper Steve Smith who, like Shaun Marsh, also struck a century in the tour game and boasts an enviable record away from home.

Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium

This is the first test match to be played at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, however it’s worth noting that 350 was chased down comfortably in a recent ODI between India and England there. There were also plenty of runs in the four IPL fixtures played in Pune last year although it remains to be seen how the pitch will be prepared for a five-day match here.

Key Stats

  • India are unbeaten in their last 20 tests at home.
  • India have won eight of their past nine tests.
  • India have won their last seven tests at home against Australia.
  • Australia have lost their last nine tests in Asia.
  • Australia’s last 17 tests away from home have all produced a result.
  • No member of the Australian squad has scored a century in India.

The Verdict

As you’d expect India open up clear, if not overwhelming, favourites with the draw considered the next most likely result ahead of an Australian win.

It’s hard to overlook the hosts here, given their hot form and prolonged history of success at home. Their squad boasts three genuine superstars in Kohli, Ashwin and Jadeja as well as incredible depth with the likes of Nair and Rohit Sharma unable to break into the top six despite undoubted talent. Their bowling attack is underpinned by the two key spin options, however their underrated pace unit will also play a key role, particularly when reverse swing comes into play.

Australia’s record in the sub-continent does not make for pleasant reading and after failing in theoretically less demanding assignments away to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, it’s difficult to see how they can compete against India’s all-conquering side.

A recent blip in form has not come at a good time for Nathan Lyon who, having historically struggled in these conditions, will lead a slow-bowling attack high on quantity but low on quality.

Meanwhile there is no proof to suggest that the Australian batsmen have overcome their struggles with the turning ball, and until we see any evidence to the contrary I simply cannot be with the visitors in any way.

As unlikely as an Australian win is, a draw seems even less conceivable when you consider that the Aussies have gone 17 consecutive tests away from home without a stalemate and having invested in more attacking players such as Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Matthew Wade, the ability to play for a draw does not seem to be in their DNA.

Furthermore there are no weather concerns in Pune and with the Indians now boasting the more aggressive Kohli at the helm a draw seems the least likely result here.

All things considered India’s price looks to be one of the more attractive propositions I’ve seen in recent times. While Starc and Hazlewood may cause the odd concern with the new ball, I simply cannot see Australia’s spinners impeding India’s rampant batting line-up in home conditions, while conversely it will not take many tricks for the Australian batting unit to be flummoxed by Ashwin and Jadeja. Therefore I will be making a significant investment on the hosts to draw first blood and take a 1-0 series lead.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – India at 1.70 or bigger for 3 units.

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