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Pune, Feb 22 (IANS) After thrashing New Zealand (3-0), England (4-0) and Bangladesh (one-off Test) at home, India will look to stretching their winning streak when the hosts take on Australia in the opening match of their four-match Test cricket series, starting here on Thursday.
With India being unbeaten since 2012 at home — winning 17 matches and having drawn three, it will be an uphill task for the visitors as the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) Stadium pitch is likely to be spin-friendly.
On the other hand, the hosts, who have played more than four Test series at home this season are familiar with the surface and conditions and will be looking to make the most from Thursday.
In the batting department, the only problem for India is the opening pair of Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul, who were inconsistent throughout the season. Both batsmen have opened the innings 12 times with an average of 18.91.
But both players showed their temperament despite poor form so the team management will likely to go with the same pair for the opening Test.
The middle-order looked perfect at the moment as they had delivered when needed the most.
In the bowling department, star spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be the game-changers for the Virat Kohli-led India.
Kohli can also include spinning all-rounder Jayant Yadav in place of medium pacer Ishant Sharma because in the recently concluded series against England, the Haryana off-spinner contributed handsomely with both bat and ball in the three Test matches he played.
Australia, on the other hand, is also suffering from the poor form of their opener Matt Renshaw — though he slammed a brilliant 184 in his last Test innings, that was at a different venue.
In the practice game against India A in Mumbai, the 20-year-old failed to impress his captain Steve Smith as he could manage to score only 21 runs in both the innings. So it will be a selection headache for Smith who will have to select one among Renshaw or Usman Khawaja.
The middle-order, which consist of Steven Smith Smith and Peter Handscomb alongwith Shawn Marsh and Mitchell Marsh, looks solid and Indian bowlers may have to work hard in the middle to dismiss them.
The visitors, who came with four spinners in their squad — Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson — will focus on getting their slow bowling combination in place as this department will go a long way in deciding the series.
In the pace bowling department, apart from pacer Mitchell Starc and Jose Hazlewood — both of whom are capable of making an impact with the older ball as well — the visitors have a little bit of inexperience as they have come with a bunch of young players unlike previous tours.
So it will be difficult for them to prevail over the Indian batting line-up which has the likes of Kohli — who is averaging over 80 after amassing 1,457 runs in the last 13 Tests, Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Ravichandaran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya.
Australia: Steve Smith (captain), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Stephen O’Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade (wicketkeeper).