The year is set to close with a bang as Australia and India get ready to serve up an intense four-match Test battle. The series has assumed greater significance with it being the first time Australia’s Test stars will strut their stuff on home soil since the infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa earlier this year.
Though the prolific pair might not be on display, there will be plenty of other exciting talent on show during the course of the next five weeks or so. Here, we look at three such players to watch out from either side.
Replacing an opener of the calibre of Warner is never an easy task and Marcus Harris has big shoes to fill as he gets ready for his potential Australia Test debut at Adelaide.
The 26-year-old left-hander shares many similarities in playing style to the man he is attempting to replace, with his short stature and powerful strokes. The Victoria batsman amassed 702 runs in the Sheffield Shield last season at an average greater than 41, and continued that form into 2018-19 with an unbeaten 250-run knock against New South Wales recently.
Harris will be eager to grasp his chance in Warner’s absence with Matt Renshaw missing out due to his poor Shield form.
It has been a frustrating last few months for Australia pacer Pat Cummins, who had been sidelined with an injury since the ill-fated tour of South Africa earlier this year.
Cummins was excellent in Australia’s tour of India in 2016, a series which started his comeback from long-term injury problems. He had been going from strength to strength since then, playing an important role in Australia’s 4-0 Ashes triumph.
He was the highest wicket-taker in the series against South Africa before his most recent injury with 22 wickets in the four Tests. Now back to full fitness, Cummins has been looking extremely good in the nets and he will no doubt be a tough nut to crack for India’s batsmen.
Over the years, Usman Khawaja has developed a reputation as a fine batsman on Australia soil whose record overseas leaves plenty to be desired. The 31-year-old’s track record in Australia is excellent, with more than 1,500 runs in 18 matches at an average of nearly 60.
The top-order batsman showed that he can succeed in foreign conditions too with a match-saving 141 against Pakistan in the UAE recently before injuring his knee.
Back on home soil, Khawaja will be eager to build on his strong record and he is likely to be entrusted with the crucial number three role in the batting order.
He might have been ruled out of the opener at Adelaide with an unfortunate ankle injury, and could be a doubt for the second Test as well, but Prithvi Shaw is primed to make an impact at some point in the series.
The 18-year-old has carried plenty of promise since his junior cricket days and has been termed as the ‘next big thing’ in Indian cricket. He showed his prowess with an entertaining ton on his debut Test against the Windies and looked to be in good touch before his injury with a fluent half-century in India’s drawn tour game.
When he does indeed come back to the side, expect some fireworks from the diminutive opening batsman.
Rishabt Pant, along with Shaw, brings some much-needed young blood into the Indian Test set-up. The 21-year-old wicketkeeper batsman burst into prominence with an explosive IPL campaign for Delhi Daredevils at the start of the year and has since been given an extended run at the international level.
Pant is being earmarked as MS Dhoni’s long-term successor in the ODI format but he has already started to make his mark in red-ball cricket with a quick-fire ton and two half centuries in his five Test appearances so far for India.
His glovework might still need a little polish but with the bat, Pant can provide India with some handy lower order runs if he gets going in his maiden series in Australia.
Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to remain India’s frontline spinner in the series but it will not be a surprise to see Kohli field Kuldeep Yadav in the line-up too. The wrist-spinner has been excellent in limited-overs cricket ever since he made his international bow and has enjoyed a fine 2018 at both the ODI and T20I level.
His sole Test outing in England at Lord’s did not go according to plan but in Australia, Kuldeep could just be the wild card India need to unsettle the hosts’ batsmen. Armed with a lethal ‘googly’, the 23-year-old has the ability to extract some sharp turn on Australian pitches.
The youngster was terrific for India in the home series against Windies and the fact that he barely bowled in the tour game could be an indication of the visitors attempting to preserve some mystery around him for the main battle.
BJ Watling remained unbeaten on a 250-ball 77 as the Kiwis were bowled out shortly before lunch on day two of the Abu Dhabi Test. In reply, Pakistan lost Mohammad Hafeez for a duck before lunch was taken with Trent Boult giving New Zealand the lightening start.
Resuming from their overnight score of 227-7 on Tuesday, Watling and New Zealand debutant Will Somerville continued to frustrate the Pakistan bowlers with a stubborn stand which was ultimately broken by Asif.
The Pakistan off-spinner ended Somerville’s 99-ball stay at the crease by beating his defence with some sharp turn. The 33-year-old then got the better of Ajaz Patel to register his fourth wicket of the innings.
Watling was left stranded on 77 after a marathon knock as Asif dislodged Boult’s stumps to complete his second five-for in Test cricket.
On day one, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson scored a fluent 89 but it was Pakistan who had dominated proceedings with Yasir Shah picking up three wickets.
Both teams are locked at 1-1 in the three-match series with New Zealand winning the opener by four runs while Pakistan won the Dubai Test by an innings margin.
Australia will be without the banned duo of Steve Smith and David Warner but India deputy skipper Ajinkya Rahane believes the hosts remain the favourites for the four-match Test series which gets underway on Thursday.
Virat Kohli and his men have been touted as favourites to win the Test battle by many pundits and former players in the absence of Australia’s two best batsmen.
Both Smith and Warner continue to serve their one-year bans for the involvement in the infamous ball-tampering scandal but Rahane feels Australia will still start as favourites in front of their home fans.
“Not really,” Rahane told reporters in Adelaide when asked if Australia will struggle to cope with the absence of the two batting stalwarts.
“I feel that any team that plays at home, they feel really good, and I feel that Australia are still the favourites to win the series,” he continued.
“We are not going to take them lightly at all. Yes, they will miss Steve Smith and David Warner but I don’t think they are vulnerable.
“You see their bowling attack, they’ve got a really good bowling attack, and I think to win Test matches, you need to have a really good bowling attack. So I feel that Australia are really still the favourites.”
India’s batsmen will be under the scanner Down Under following their poor displays in the tours of South Africa and England. According to Rahane, building long partnerships will be the key for the tourists if they are to win a maiden Test series on Australian soil.
“When you do well as a team, you feel really good,” said Rahane.
“This is a team sport … and it is the job of each and every bat to contribute for the team. And I think it’s important that we get those long partnerships together, in Australia that will really help us a lot.”
The two teams will begin their Test battle at the picturesque Adelaide Oval from Thursday onwards.