India Test team
From next month, India will host Australia for four Tests. The host needs to win at least two Tests to confirm its berth in the WTC final. File photo: Twitter/BCCI

'Almost impossible' for Australia to beat India at home: Ian Chappell

Rohit Sharma and Co will miss Rishabh Pant’s “gregarious personality” but it is still “almost impossible” for Australia to beat India at home, feels the legendary Ian Chappell.

The Pat Cummins-led Australia, which has had a golden run winning the Ashes and then the series against Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa most recently, will face its ultimate test in the four-match series, beginning in Nagpur on February 9.

The outcome of the four Tests will determine the fate of both teams’ qualification to the World Test Championship Final.

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After Nagpur, the series will move to New Delhi (February 17-21), Dharamsala (March 1-5) and Ahmedabad (March 9-13).

“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,” Chappell wrote in a column for ESPNCricinfo.

India’s domination for over a decade

Pointing out that the series has all the makings of a hard-fought one, he added: “These sides are two of Test crickets dwindling number of really good teams, but its hard to look past India for the eventual victors of this series.”

Also read: Rishabh Pant posts picture from hospital bed: Here are my heroes

It has been more than a decade since India lost a Test series at home – to England 1-2 in 2012.

Australia, on the other hand, is in search of a first series win in India in 19 years. In its last tour of the country, it began with a big win in the Pune Test but went on to lose the series 1-2.

“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,” wrote the 79-year-old.

Pant was ruled out after sustaining injuries in a horrific car accident last month and, in his absence, India has the rookie duo of Ishan Kishan and KS Bharat, who are yet to play Tests.

‘No one can replace Pant’

“India also have some points to prove, not the least to do with 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,” he said.

The key for Team India would be to establish a “mental superiority” over ace Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon, he said.

“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 (Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc).”

But all of them, including Lyon, average in excess of 30 in India, Chappell pointed out.

‘Choose best bowlers’

“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.”

On the pace triumvirate, Chappell said: “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.”

The former Australia captain further wrote that the key for the Indian bowlers would be to keep Steve Smith quiet.

“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.

“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,” he added.

(With agency inputs)

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