Bengaluru: Australia’s blockbuster four-Test series against India will be the greaTest challenge Pat Cummins has faced in his young captaincy as he looks to conquer the “final frontier” in his country’s proud cricketing battles.
India hold the Border-Gavaskar Trophy having won the last three Tests series between the teams, including their breakthrough triumph Down Under in 2018-19 and another on the road in 2020-2021.
They have been even more imposing at home, where they have lost only two out of 42 Tests over the best part of a decade and are on a winning streak of 15 successive series wins.
Cummins has gone on the record as saying that a series win in India, which Australia have achieved only four times and most recently in 2004-05, is on a par with the benchmark of Australian cricketing success - an Ashes triumph.
A triumph in India, which former captain Steve Waugh once called Australian cricket’s “Final Frontier”, would go a long way in bolstering Cummins’ leadership credentials.
Also at stake in the four-match series, which begins in Nagpur on Thursday, are spots in the second World Test Championship title-decider in June.
The two teams could face off again in the final at The Oval and sit atop the standings with Australia only needing to avoid a 4-0 whitewash to book their spot.
The tourists will be without some key names for the first Test at least, however.
Seasoned fast bowler Josh Hazlewood will miss the Nagpur match with an Achilles issue, while finger injuries have ruled left-arm quick Mitchell Starc out of the opener and made all-rounder Cameron Green a doubtful starter.
India are not without injury woes with wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant missing the series after a car crash in December and paceman Jasprit Bumrah ruled out of the first two Tests due to a back injury.
Ravindra Jadeja is returning from an ankle injury to add to Rohit Sharma’s headaches, although the India skipper still has plenty of spin options in his squad for what could be a turning wicket in the opener.
With spin talk dominating the build-up to the series, which also includes Tests in New Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad, the touring side left no stone unturned by practising on a scuffed-up surface in Sydney before flying to India.
Having decided against playing “irrelevant” warm-up matches, they gathered a bunch of local spinners for their net sessions in Alur and hired a bowler with a delivery similar to India’s Ravichandran Ashwin.
“Hopefully we get really good training facilities where the ball is likely to do what it’s likely to do in the middle and we can get our practice in,” former Australia skipper Steve Smith said last week.
“We’re better off having our own nets and getting spinners in and bowling as much as they can.” Australia have kept their own bowling options open by including four spinners and six pace bowlers in their squad.
Former Australia paceman Ryan Harris said that they would need to be competitive in every session of every match to snatch a series victory.
“Having the confidence they have and the form they’re in, it can definitely help them. But it can change pretty quickly over there,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.
“They’re not going to leave much grass on the pitches for our quicks, no doubt about that.” India’s chances of making the World Test Championship final hinge on avoiding a series defeat and they will hope that New Zealand can help them out by beating third-placed Sri Lanka in their two-Test series in March.
A 3-0 triumph against Australia would be enough for Rohit’s side to go through if Sri Lanka beat the Black Caps.