Battles to watch: Lyon vs Pujara and Kohli, and Ashwin vs Warner and Smith
A look at some of the head-to-head contests that could decide who wins the Border-Gavaskar Trophy
India vs Australia exchanges usually have incredible match-ups. Here's a look at the ones that could be key in shaping how the upcoming four-Test series goes.
Lyon vs Pujara and Kohli
There has been much talk about how Australia's batters will handle India's multi-pronged spin threat on surfaces that are likely to provide plenty of assistance for them. But India will need to be equally wary of Nathan Lyon.
Lyon's record in India is impressive without being outstanding - 34 wickets in seven Tests at 30.58 - but he has improved over time: in 2012-13, he averaged 37.33 from three Tests, but in 2016-17 it dropped to 25.26. Moreover, the economy rate also improved from 4.4 in 2012-13 to 2.88 when he toured next, suggesting that he can also offer control from one end while the fast bowlers attack from the other.
What's even better are Lyon's numbers against India's two leading and most experienced Test batters. Lyon has dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara five times in India, at an average of 35.2 per dismissal, while his stats against Virat Kohli are even better - four wickets at an average of 23.25.
Both batters fare much better against Lyon in Australia, suggesting that this is one battle the Australians would prefer fighting away from home. Also, Lyon needs only ten more wickets to go past Shane Warne to become the leading wicket-taker among non-Asian spinners in Asia.
Pujara and Kohli vs the Australia quicks
While Lyon would be happy to take on India's top batters in India, the same probably can't be said for the Australia fast bowlers. And with Josh Hazlewood ruled out of the first Test, Australia's ability to control the game with pace has suffered a blow.
Both Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have been crucial in picking up big wickets for Australia when they play at home. Cummins, for example, has dismissed Pujara seven times at an average of 16.85, while Hazlewood's five dismissals of Pujara have cost 28 runs each. Pujara got the better of Hazlewood in style in the 2018-19 series, scoring 102 runs for just one dismissal, but in the two other series in Australia - 2014-15 and 2020-21 - Hazlewood was the clear winner, dismissing Pujara four times and conceding 38 runs.
Together, these two bowlers have gone at 1.5 runs per over against Pujara in Australia, conceding 21.5 runs per wicket. Six of those 12 dismissals have been through edges behind the stumps, which is tougher to pull off in India because of the lack of pace and bounce. So, in India, they have got him out just once, conceding 152 runs, and gone at 2.7 runs per over. Looking at these numbers, there's no doubt where Pujara would rather face Australia's pace spearheads.
Kohli's story, though, is a little different.
He has much better numbers against Australia in Australia than in India; the last time Australia toured India, in 2017, Kohli scored 46 runs in five innings at 9.20. He'll get an opportunity to atone for that over the next few weeks.
Ashwin vs Warner
Australia have had a 21-year-old Baroda spinner called Maheesh Pithiya bowling at them in the nets. Why? Because his action resembles that of R Ashwin. Hardly surprising. In eight Tests at home against Australia, Ashwin has taken 50 wickets at 23.16.
One batter who could definitely do with some help is David Warner. Ten dismissals in 385 deliveries for 182 runs (average 18.2) indicates that there has only been one winner in this contest. The only time when this was a somewhat even battle was in the 2012-13 series in India, when Warner scored 79 runs and was dismissed twice.
Warner can perhaps take some encouragement from the fact that his numbers against Ashwin are better in India than in Australia: he averages 29.20 against him in India, and 7.20 in Australia (five dismissals each). Ashwin is one of only three bowlers to dismiss Warner at least ten times in Tests - Stuart Broad and James Anderson are the others - and his average is the best among the three.
Add in Ravindra Jadeja - four dismissals at 14.75 - and this series has all the makings of an extremely challenging one for Warner.
Smith vs the India spinners
Steven Smith, on the other hand, has excellent numbers against both these Indian spinners and will be a key batter in this series. He averages 68.66 against Ashwin (57 in India), and 45.25 against Jadeja (37.75 in India). On the 2016-17 tour to India, Smith averaged 66 against Ashwin and 40.66 against Jadeja.
Smith will still have a point to prove against Ashwin, though: when they last played each other in Australia in 2020-21, Ashwin had figures of 3 for 64 against him in 124 balls.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats