Australia vs India 2018-19: Will the injuries to Shaw and Pandya nullify India’s advantage gained through Smith and Warner's absence?
Long before a ball has been bowled in the Australia-India Test series, much of the talk has centered around the absence of Australia’s two best batsmen – Steve Smith and David Warner. According to many experts, their bans have made India the favourites to win their first ever Test series Down Under.
However, in the intervening period, India have lost two of their best players who were certain to play key roles in the series.
Hardik Pandya, India’s only pace-bowling all-rounder, could not recover in time for the series. And India’s most promising young batsman, Prithvi Shaw, suffered an injury in the warm-up game that seems likely to sideline him for at least the first two Tests.
In many ways, the absence of these two players has created a vacuum in the Indian side that would be difficult to fill.
In overseas series, Pandya gives the Indian team some much-needed cushion to both the bowling attack and the batting lineup. He may not be an established all-rounder who can walk into the team as either a batsman or a bowler, but he is the closest to a genuine pace-bowling all-rounder that India have had in a very long time.
His absence means that India are most likely going to play a bowler short in the series, as is expected to be the case in the first Test at Adelaide. They could, of course, go for a five-bowler strategy in some Tests, but that would make the tail a very long one and weaken the batting considerably.
Similarly, the confident and in-form Shaw was expected to get India off to flyers with his swashbuckling stroke-play, as he has done in the few matches he has played for India so far. But in his absence, India would have to depend on the very talented but frustratingly inconsistent and out-of-form KL Rahul to give them a decent start.
These twin blows to both Australia and India have ensured that both teams would go into the test series on an even footing. The supposed advantage that India had gained through a weakened Australian side in the absence of Warner and Smith, seems to have been largely cancelled out by the twin blows in the form of the injuries to Hardik Pandya and Prithvi Shaw.