It’s hard to recall a bigger year of test cricket for Australia than what lies ahead in 2023. The Aussies are out to break not one, but two hoodoos in consecutive tours against their two biggest rivals.
Beating India in India and England in England have become a couple of elusive holy grails in the past two decades for Australia.
And while the Aussies haven’t won an Ashes series in England since 2001, after losing four series in a row over there to the Poms, they did draw the 2019 series which saw them retain the little urn.
However, it’s a different story on the subcontinent where Australia has lost its last four series against India who is also currently enjoying its best-ever streak of series wins against the Aussies (three).
The last time the Aussies defeated India on its home turf was in late 2004 and it remains the only tour of India in which Australia has triumphed in ten attempts since the summer of 1969-70 — a far cry from our track record in England which saw Australia win four series in a row between 1989 and 2001.
So in many respects the upcoming four-test series in India, which kicks off on Thursday, is the final frontier for the Aussies.
Legendary pace bowler Jason Gillespie, who was a member of that last victorious touring party of India, thinks as much.
Said Gillespie, who was the Aussies’ leading wicket-taker on the 2004 tour with 20 wickets at a bowling average of 16.15:
'Let’s be honest, [for] this group of Australian players, this could be a career-defining tour.'
A series win in India would certainly serve as a career highlight for all Australian players involved, but to achieve that, they are going to have to play out of their skins.
Spin, as always in India, looms as one of the keys to success, which means a lot is riding on the shoulders of Nathan Lyon as well as his understudies Ashton Agar, Mitch Swepson and newcomer Todd Murphy.
It wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest to see captain Pat Cummins turn to the part-time tweakers of Steve Smith, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne either.
India’s spinning stocks are very strong as you’d expect, with the likes of Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel set to provide a huge challenge for Australia’s batsmen.
But speed will also play a key role and both teams have potent pace batteries. Australia boasts Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Starc, Cam Green and Scott Boland, while India’s attack features the brilliant Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav.
However, both teams have been hit hard by injury with a host of key players set to miss the first test in Nagpur.
The tourists will almost certainly be without Hazlewood (Achilles injury), Starc (finger injury) and Green (finger injury), while the hosts will be missing star duo Jasprit Bumrah (glute injury) and Rishabh Pant who suffered multiple injuries in a shocking car crash late last year.
It means that Victorian cult hero Scott Boland will probably spearhead Australia’s attack in the first test alongside Cummins.
Labuschagne, Head, Smith and Usman Khawaja head into this series in fine form, having amassed a mountain of runs in the summer series against the West Indies and South Africa.
But while David Warner hit a double century in Melbourne, this series against India still looms as a pivotal one for the 36-year-old as he searches for consistency.
And to say that the Australian bowling attack will have its hands full would be an understatement as it will be confronted by a daunting Indian batting line-up that consists of KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Suryakumar Yadav — most of whom are capable of singlehandedly taking the game away from their opponents.
Suryakumar Yadav is yet to make his test debut, but he has made a huge splash in Twenty20 cricket, so it will be interesting to see if he can translate that form into the red-ball arena if given the chance.
However, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy isn’t the only thing that is at stake in the next month. Both teams are still aiming to secure their place in the ICC World Test Championship final at The Oval in June.
Australia and India are in the box seat to qualify, as they currently occupy first and second spots on the table respectively, however a lopsided result either way in this series could see one of them slip out of the top two.
Ronny’s prediction: India 2-1
Ronny Lerner has been a sports and music journalist/editor since 2006. Follow Ronny on Twitter @RonnyLerner.
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