After finishing as runners-up in the World Test Championship (WTC) last time out, India are on the hunt for another final this year. However, they need some results to go their way in this situation, starting with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy early next year.
Rohit Sharma's side will welcome Australia to their shores for a four-match Test series. To have a chance to qualify for the WTC Finals this time around, they will have to win at least three of their four matches on home soil.
However, India haven't been at their best in the longest format in recent times. Against a team that are ranked number one on the WTC list, the hosts will have to bring their A-game to the fore.
The rivalry between the two sides has been a thrilling one in recent times, and both teams will be expected to raise their game for the big occasion.
The hosts might not be best prepared for the upcoming series in February, though. In this article, we take a look at three reasons why:
#1 Form of the Indian batters
The form of the Indian top order hasn't been the best in recent times. Injuries and constant chopping and changing haven't done them any favors either, but the top and middle orders have left much to be desired this year.
India's captain and vice captain have played only 2 and 4 games, respectively, scoring 90 and 137 runs this year. While Rohit has averaged 30 this year, KL Rahul only has an average of 17.12.
Virat Kohli hasn't done too well compared to his lofty standards either. In six matches, he has scored 265 runs at an average of 26.50. Shubman Gill has had a few chances to show what he's all about but has flattered to deceive, scoring 178 runs at an average of 29.66 in six matches.
Shreyas Iyer and Cheteshwar Pujara are the only two batters in the top order who have scored over 400 runs this year. The two also average over 45 and have been key for India, alongside their lower middle order. It's fair to say that the top order will need to come to the party come February.
#2 Letting matches slip away
UUnder the Kohli-Shastri leadership, India earned a reputation for playing an attacking and ruthless brand of cricket. The head-on approach revolutionized India's Test credentials and saw them dominate, not only at home but also in away conditions.
However, things haven't been quite the same in recent times. The series against South Africa earlier this year was a prime example of that. More often than not, India have found themselves in fairly decent positions to put on the squeeze and try to win the game.
However, they let a fairly inexperienced South African side get the better of them on more than one occasion. This is the same Proteas team that is currently struggling in the Test series against Australia in Australia.
In the postponed Test against England in the Pataudi Trophy, the visitors were blown away by the Bazball template. Even recently against Bangladesh, India had their backs against the wall on a few occasions and had to rely on tip-toeing over the finish line.
Against a side like Australia, though, the Men in Blue might not be as lucky to get away with these situations. The team from Down Under will make sure they pounce on any possible openings and might make India pay for it.
#3 Questions about the availability of key players
The injury to Jasprit Bumrah has been a critical blow for the Men in Blue in all formats. The ace fast bowler has 22 wickets in five matches this year, averaging 20.31 in the longest format.
With spinners expected to dominate proceedings in subcontinent conditions, the hosts might be counting on the likes of Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin. Hence, they might be better equipped to cope with the absence of Bumrah.
The same might not be the case with Rishabh Pant. The unfortunate incident involving the 25-year-old means that cricket is obviously the second priority, with his well-being taking priority.
However, one cannot emphasize his significance to the team and what he brings to the table. Pant has been their leading run-scorer in Test matches this year, scoring 680 runs in 7 matches with an average of 61.81.
He also has four half-centuries and a couple of centuries in this period, having been dismissed in the nineties on more than one occasion. Without a doubt, he will be a huge miss for the team and will leave a gaping hole.
Ravindra Jadeja is another player who has been injured since the Asia Cup 2022. There is no set timeline for his return, and his absence could be another key factor in not only deciding India's team balance but also possibly deciding the series.
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