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Comment

If India keep Smith and Lyon quiet, they have the edge against Australia

Australia are boosted by good performances at home, but India are always near-impossible to beat in India

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
29-Jan-2023
Steven Smith and Nathan Lyon discuss field settings, Australia vs West Indies, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 3rd Day, December 10, 2022

Steven Smith is the only current Australia batter who averages above 30 in India. Lyon has 34 wickets from seven Tests, by far the most of the current attack  •  AFP/Getty Images

A consistent Australia will fancy their chances of winning the "final frontier" contest against India. This confidence is based on a settled batting line-up, a well-balanced pace attack capable of producing old-ball swing if the conditions prevail, and a successful spin bowler.
Nevertheless this will be a tough challenge - also referred to in Australia as "Everest" - as the Indian side is powerful and almost impossible to defeat in home conditions.
While it is more than a decade since India lost a series at home (to England 2-1 in 2012), Australia are portraying confidence after displaying strong form on their own pitches. Their confidence is further boosted by a serious injury to Rishabh Pant, which means the wicketkeeper-batter's gregarious personality will be sorely missed.
However, it is one thing to be confident of a player's batting ability in Australian conditions but another to wonder how they'll perform on entirely different Indian pitches. This is an area where Australian batters - Steven Smith apart - have to prove themselves.
Smith, with 60, is the only current Australia batter on the tour to average more than 30 in India. Achieving batting success will be a big challenge for the Australian batters, especially if Ravindra Jadeja bowls successfully in partnership with the highly efficient R Ashwin.
Then there's Australia's spin department. Nathan Lyon is the only proven performer and even he averages in excess of 30 in India. While Lyon feels he has improved as a bowler on the subcontinent, his support comes from bowlers like Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson, who are both unproven quantities.
Australia need to ditch any temptation to obey the right- and left-arm theory and only choose the best bowlers for the conditions. Their confidence in their pace bowlers also needs to be tempered by what they have achieved in India. Australia's "big three", Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, all average in excess of 30 in India and they'll need to particularly display improved old-ball nous to achieve better results in India.
In general, the selectors have chosen form players who have shown they can perform in Australia but now they have to succeed under vastly different conditions.
Australia's greatest asset before the series gets underway is their confidence, which stems from stability. A big test for the team is how long they can maintain that confidence under pressure from India.
A lot of Australia's faith leading into the tour is based on them winning in 2004-05, thanks to the success of their pace bowlers. Once again this needs to be tempered by the knowledge that the success was mainly based on two champions, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. So a lot will depend on the success or otherwise of Australia's lead pace bowlers.
India also have some points to prove, not the least to do with how how Pant's replacement performs. The main thing India will lose from Pant's unavailability is an excellent run rate, which came from his belligerent aggression. No one can replace Pant's desire to dominate bowlers, so India have to rely on their top batters not only performing but also maintaining a good strike rate.
One of the main tasks for Indian players like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara will be to establish mental superiority over Lyon. If Australia can't rely on Lyon claiming regular wickets at an acceptable rate, their bowling will then depend greatly on the "big three".
The main task for India's bowlers will be to find a way to keep the heavy-scoring Smith quiet. If India are able to limit Smith and Lyon's success they will be on the way to winning matches.
Test series between good teams have a way of bringing out the best in the most competitive players. This series has all the makings of a hard-fought one, with very little between two excellent teams. These sides are two of Test cricket's dwindling number of really good teams, but it's hard to look past India for the eventual victors of this series.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist