Australia – A month ago, the Australian Test XI was largely settled and rightly deemed strong favourites in their bid for revenge against India. And while they still go in with their noses ahead (according to the bookies), a manic fortnight has meant the makeup of their top six is still up in the air 24 hours out from the first Test of the summer.
Injuries to David Warner and Will Pucovski, the torrid form of Joe Burns, and scares to Cameron Green and Steve Smith has without doubt impacted the preparations of the side. Thankfully for coach Justin Langer, it appears the latter two will pass fitness tests, meaning an exciting debut for the young all-rounder in Green. Having banged down the door with the bat in the Sheffield Shield, Green offers huge up-side at number six, while skipper Tim Paine will relish throwing him the ball for shorter spells.
If you believe what is said in front of the cameras, Burns will also hold his spot, meaning he is increasingly likely to partner Matthew Wade — who has never opened in first class cricket before — at the top. This leaves the Aussies exposed, but Wade has opened many times in the shorter formats, which should help him navigate the pink ball.
Likely XI: Burns, Wade, Labuschange, Smith, Head, Green, Paine, Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon
India – Two years ago India claimed a historic victory over Australia — their first ever Test series win Down Under. But the famous win always had somewhat of an asterisk next to it; while a monumental achievement, Australia was playing without it’s two best batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, banned for their role in the ball tampering incident. This time, however, they’re back (although Warner will miss the first Test). And this time, it’s sure to be a tighter contest.
Similar to the Aussies, India’s final XI is up in the air as they consider the best options for the two openers’ spots, wicket-keeper and third seamer role. Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw are the incumbents at the top and should hold their place but the selectors are actively considering — like the Aussies — an exciting would-be debutant in Shubman Gill. Behind the stumps, Wriddhiman Saha is the frontrunner to reclaim his spot but Rishabh Pant (the second-highest runscorer in the 2018/19 series) is a huge chance to snatch it back. With the ball, it appears the selectors are leaning towards Umesh Yadav to partner Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Likely XI: Shaw, Agarwal, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Vihari, Saha/Pant, Ashwin, U.Yadav, Shami, Bumrah
Betting – The Aussies go in deserved favourites but are hugely exposed at the top of the order. And should that fail, the steadying hands of Smith and Marnus Labuschagne could be out facing a new pink ball before they know it. However if the under-siege pair (whoever the selectors opt for) can see off the new ball, Langer’s charges are the more well-rounded XI in these conditions and should take a 1-0 series lead.
For the home side, Labuschagne is champing at the bit, and having peeled off 162, 143 and 50 in last summer’s day/night Tests, is primed to do so again. With the ball, Mitchell Starc’s record with the pink ball is similarly brilliant and is a strong option to bounce back into form.
For the tourists, it’s difficult to look past one man in the individual markets. And skipper Virat Kohli, knowing this is the only lasting mark he can leave on the series (before heading back home to India), is that man. With the ball, it’s a toss up between India top two pacemen but I’m opting for Shami.