By Suraj Shukla
As the Indian team gears up for its final acid-test of this year in Down Under, the speculation and prediction games for the series have already begun. Many have picked the Indians as favourites to win their maiden Test series in Australia against the vulnerable hosts. However, there are people like Ian Chappell, who reckons that the performance of the Indians during their recent tours of South Africa and England have made him pick the Australians as the favorites. Whereas the former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting has suggested that Usman Khawaja will outscore Virat Kohli in the four-match Test series.
Nevertheless, amid all these pre-series mind games, we are perhaps missing an important point.
With the unavailability of Steve Smith and David Warner, the Australian batting is significantly weakened for sure, but they still have the top bowlers in their ranks who are in their own conditions can be lethal. Also, the Indians have their own issues in the batting department. In the recent past, barring Kohli most of the Indian batsmen have struggled in testing conditions. While this time the pitches are not expected to be as tricky as they were in South Africa and England, but still the visiting batters will be facing the stern test from the Australian pacers.
Oh, wait! What about the “GOAT” then?
For the past few years, the term “GOAT” has been associated with Garry. Remember Garry right? When Australia toured India last time, the fans during the series opener in Pune made sure the “Niiiiiiiiiiice Garrrrrry!” chants hit the ears of the off-spinner. While Nathan Lyon and Australia did not get the success they would’ve anticipated the off-spinner did trouble the Indians and had a major say in the series as he had outnumbered the pacers of both the sides.
In the 2014-15 series, Lyon turned the tide in favour of Australia at Adelaide when Indian skipper Kohli and opener Murali Vijay were threatening to take the game away from them. He picked up seven wickets in the innings and helped the home team registering an unlikely victory.
In that four-match series, Lyon had accounted for 23 Indian wickets in the was by far the best bowler from both teams. Whereas his counterpart Ravichandran Ashwin had only 12 wickets to his name.
Coming into this series, the Aussie off-spinners is once again holding the key. While 2018 has not been that fruitful for the 31-year old, but last year he was Australian’s highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, picking up 63 wickets in 11 games at an impressive average of 23.55. And this Indian team doesn’t have an ideal track record against off-spinner in foreign conditions, especially on wickets which offer bounce.
Hence, alongside Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and other seamers, it will be interesting to notice how “Gazza” (Lyon’s current nickname) goes about with business in this much anticipated series against the No.1 ranked Test team in the world.
(Suraj Shukla is a Mumbai-based cricket enthusiast. He can be contacted via Facebook.)