After all the build-up and mind games, we are just hours away from the first Test between India and Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023 in Nagpur. This series is crucial for the hosts as they have to win at least two Tests to stay in the race to qualify for the ICC World Test Championship Final.
Australia, on the other hand, will also be confident after beating Pakistan away from home in a Test series last year. They have made some special preparations for the series and the stage seems set for what could be one of the most closely-fought series in recent memory.
With world-class players who have faced off against each other on numerous occasions on both sides, it is but natural that there are some match-ups to watch out for. On that note, let's take a look at three such match-ups that could go a long way in deciding the winner of the 1st Test in Nagpur.
#3 Steve Smith vs Ravichandran Ashwin
Before the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy Down Under, many had doubts about how Ravichandran Ashwin would fare on pitches that didn't offer much turn. However, the veteran off-spinner showed his class by making one of the best Test batters of all-time in Steve Smith his bunny.
With the infamous 'legside trap', Ashwin dominated Smith on the field and repeatedly tested him on a mental level. The Aussie did score a hundred in the Sydney Test, but it was his rather quiet series that played a huge role in India winning the trophy.
The star batter has claimed that Australia have some plans up their sleeve to work Ashwin out. However, for someone who has dismissed Smith six times in Tests, Ashwin will be confident of dominating the batter in home conditions.
#2 Rohit Sharma vs Pat Cummins
The outcome of the series could also depend a lot on what happens in the showdown between captains Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins. The speedster dismissed Rohit twice the last time India traveled Down Under and that will give him a lot of confidence.
However, Rohit has been one of India's best batters in Tests ever since he began opening the batting. He won't shy away from playing a counter-attacking knock upfront if needed.
This could bring a lot of runs for the Indian captain, but would also keep the Australian skipper in with a chance of picking up the big wicket.
#1 Virat Kohli vs Nathan Lyon
Arguably the biggest player battle that fans from both countries are waiting for is the one between former captain Virat Kohli and off-spinner Nathan Lyon. One of the greatest finger spinners ever produced by Australia, Lyon has dismissed Kohli seven times in Tests.
Kohli's recent problems against spin of late, especially off-spin, are well-documented. However, the star batter has also averaged 58.6 against Lyon, which is the most for any active Indian cricketer.
This makes the battle even more interesting, especially if the reports of the pitch in Nagpur being a rank turner are true.
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