India will face Australia in the First Test of their much-anticipated series in Nagpur, with the match beginning on February 9th. The action is scheduled to begin at 9 am local time.
Apart from the usual rivalry between the two countries, there is qualification for the World Test Championship final, which will be played at the Oval in June at stake.
Australia are virtually guaranteed their place whatever happens in this series, such is their lead at the top of the standings. India are second behind them and can also confirm their place with several good results.
That would enable them to qualify for the final for the second successive time. They lost to New Zealand in Southampton in 2021.
Head to head
The teams will be playing for the Border Gavaskar trophy which has been on the line when the two countries have played each other since 1996, although Tests between the pair predate that, stretching back to 1947.
During that time, India have won 30 matches, Australia 43, and one game ended in a tie. There have also been 28 draws.
The last time they met
India will have happy memories of the last time they met in the Test format.
They travelled to Australia in the winter of 2020/2021 for a tour that included four Tests.
The home side won the first Test in Adelaide, but India levelled the series with victory in Melbourne.
After the third Test was drawn in Sydney, India recorded a historic away series win by winning the fourth test in Brisbane by three wickets, with Rishabh Pant earning Player of the match honours with an unbeaten 89 in India’s second innings.
The last time Australia toured India for a Test series was back in 2017. On that occasion they won the first test in Pune, but eventually lost the series 2 -1.
Australia, though, have enjoyed a good recent run in Test cricket, winning the Ashes, and then beating Pakistan, the West Indies and South Africa.
India’s last Test series was away in Bangladesh in December, where they won both matches.
India will be at almost full strength, with the possible exception of Pant, who continues to recover from the injuries he sustained in a car accident over New Year, and Jasprit Bumrah, who is ruled out again with his back problem.
However, Ravindra Jadeja, who has not played for India since injuring himself fielding in the Asia Cup is back in the squad, having proved his fitness recently playing in the Ranchi trophy.
One key decision is who keeps wicket. KS Bharat has been named in the squad and could be in line for his international debut, but the selectors could also choose either Ishan Kishan or KL Rahul.
Australia have been rocked by the news that fast bowler Josh Hazlewood will miss this match and is a doubt for the second Test in Delhi after suffering an Achilles’ injury. Scott Boland has been called up as his replacement. They also will have to without another of their pace bowlers, Mitchell Starc, who has a finger injury.
Both sides making special preparations
Both teams are making special preparations to counter the threat posed by main opposition spinners.
Australia have been practising against Mahesh Pithiya because his action is the closest they can find to Ravichandran Ashwin.
Meanwhile, Jayant Yadav and Pulkit Narang have been bowling in the nets to the Indian players helping to replicate the danger posed by Nathan Lyon.
The tourists have not had any warm-up matches because previous experience has taught them that the pitches used for such matches differ radically from those they find in the tests themselves.
It is a bold call, but one they are hoping will pay off.
India will be hoping that home advantage will count in their failure, and the fact that the Australian pace attack is diminished will count in their favour, although spin is likely to dominate.
The home side will welcome back Virat Kohli after he was rested for the T20I series with New Zealand, and will be hoping he can maintain his recent from this year, along with Shubman Gill.
The matches are likely to be close and, whatever happens in the first Test, this could well be a rehearsal for the WTC final itself.
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