1st Test, Nagpur, February 09 - 11, 2023, Australia tour of India
177 & 91

India won by an innings and 132 runs

Player Of The Match
5/47, 70 & 2/34

India, Australia, and the start of a larger-than-life cricket yarn

The high-profile series plays out against the broader narrative of a World Test Championship final

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu

Big picture: get on the BGT hype train

There are no absolutes except for the absolutes, one of which is time and how everything fades in front of it. This is especially true of stuff that take place on a pretty green field because, well, they aren't as important as that list of things you need to go get for your mum's birthday or the supplies that your kid needs for class tomorrow.
Except sometimes, a game stands in defiance of its fate. Bradman's duck. Sometimes it just refuses to fade away. Kumble's ten. Sometimes it becomes larger than life. 1983. And 2005. Sport finds a way to be more because its people find a way to be more; to be better.
When Steven Smith yells "no run" after straight up leaving the ball, he is trying to be better. When Mohammed Siraj runs in again after just being hit for a boundary, he is trying to be better. When David Warner takes guard after being chewed up and spit out, he is trying to be better. When Cheteshwar Pujara plays through pain, he is trying to be better. This innately human trait binds the artist to their audience. It's why a silly little game can bring so much joy.
On Thursday, at 9.30am local time, Australia will officially renew their quest into the final frontier. They've attempted this ten times since 1969 and only once have they succeeded, prompting the need for distinctly out-of-the-box ideas, including - but not limited to - an R Ashwin clone. Side note, should we expect a Jofra Archer clone ahead of the Ashes now?
India have their own challenges to navigate as well. They go into a series that could define their captain's legacy without their best bowler and the phenom who won it the last time it was played. But that loss is mitigated somewhat by a feeling that these four matches could pretty much put the blue tick (wait, it's gold now, isn't it?) against their next superstar batter and the return of one of their biggest match-winners.
Also, all this plays out against the broader narrative of a World Test Championship. In other words, we may be about to see the 2023 final happen four times before it actually happens on June 7. So what are you waiting for? Get on the hype train.

Form guide

India: WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Australia: DWWWW

In the spotlight: Virat Kohli and Marnus Labuschagne

The coronation has already happened on Insta. After Shubman Gill completed the set by scoring his first T20I century earlier this month, Virat Kohli put out a story with the words "Sitara" meaning star, and "the future is here". All through his career, the former India captain has delighted in the success of his team-mates (Thank you, Kohli cam). Much more recently, he has shrugged off the notion that what he does on a cricket field is what defines him. This is Kohli as we've never seen him before. He has become totally SFW. But Australia are here and they usually have a way of getting his blood pumping.
Australia have four left-hand batters in their top seven. India have just one. And this match will take place on a pitch which has been selectively watered to create a rough outside the left-hand batters' off stump on a good to full length area. It's home advantage but on a whole other level because the likelihood of backfiring - as it did in Pune six years ago - is minimal. This places the onus very clearly on Australia's right-hand batters, so Marnus Labuschagne, over to you. In 2017, Australia did so many things right but struggled to find support for Smith. This time around, they have someone capable of not just matching him but possibly even beating him on the run-scorers chart.

Team news: Suryakumar vs Gill vs Rahul

This section has been made redundant thanks to the excellent work of Karthik Krishnaswamy and Alex Malcolm, our reporters on tour. So for India, click here, and for Australia, click here.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill/KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ravindra Jadeja, 6 Shubman Gill/Suryakumar Yadav, 7 KS Bharat (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Axar Patel/Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Peter Handscomb, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Ashton Agar/Todd Murphy, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Scott Boland

Pitch and conditions

Spin-friendly (that sound you just heard is Ravi Shastri going woohoo!). And a clear threat to left-handers. Nagpur weather is usually hot and dry.

Stats and trivia

  • India need to win at least three Tests in this series to put their qualification for the WTC final beyond any doubt. And considering their win-loss record at home over the last 10 years is 42 and 2, they'll be fancying their chances.
  • One of the two in 42 and 2 is Australia. They beat India in 2017 and then England followed suit in 2021.
  • Axar Patel has 47 wickets in eight Tests so far. If he takes three more in his next match, he will be the fastest Indian to 50 Test wickets, alongside Ashwin (nine Tests).
  • Usman Khawaja has been part of a Test squad that has toured India twice before - in 2013 and 2017 - but he is yet to play an actual game here.
  • Quotes

    "Winning a series in India is like an Ashes away series [win], but even more rare. It will be a career highlight, an era-defining series if we win out there"
    Australia captain Pat Cummins is motivated big time to win in India

    Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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