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Buoyant India take on aggressive Australia in series opener

PUNE, Feb 22:

On a fairytale 19-match unbeaten streak, India would seek extension of their incredible dominance on home turf when they clash against an aggressive Australia in the four-Test series, beginning here tomorrow.
The series against the Steve Smith-led side is the fourth and last home series of the 2016-17 season for India, who have conjured up emphatic victories over New Zealand (3-0), England (4-0) and Bangladesh (one-off Test).
India are going into the rubber, seeking their seventh successive series win going back to the three-Test away series against Sri Lanka in 2015.
There are several factors in India’s stupendous run, chief among those being captain Virat Kohli’s phenomenal run with the bat. The young captain has truly led from the front by notching up four double hundreds.
Kohli is averaging over 80 after accumulating 1457 runs in the last 13 Tests and Australia will need to find ways to curtail his brilliance to stop the Indian Juggernaut.
The other major factor has been the excellent bowling by spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, incidentally the top two bowlers in the ICC rankings.
Off-spinner Ashwin has grabbed 78 wickets in 13 games during the same period with 8 five-fors at an average of just over 24 while left-armer Jadeja has scalped 49 wickets in 10 Tests at just under 25.
The spin twins, who combined forces to rout New Zealand and England, again pose a major threat to the Australians.
In addition to these three players’ consistent performance, the support from batsmen such as opener Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara and from other bowlers has been invaluable.
The stubborn lower-order batting has often helped the team come out of tricky situations and score big.
As coach Anil Kumble pointed out yesterday, India have not fielded the same eleven during this successful phase due to a variety of reasons including injuries. But each replacement has been bang-on and delivered the goods.
India’s unbeaten 19-Test run commenced with a victory in the second Test of the series in Sri Lanka.
At home, India have not tasted defeat since drawing the fourth and final Test of the 2012-13 series against England. During this period they have played 20 Tests, won 17 and drawn three, a fine record by any reckoning.
And their win-loss record over the last 20 Tests, both home and away, is 15-1. This is the sort of challenge the Australians face as they go into the series opener at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium on a pitch where the ball will “fly”, according to curator and former pacer Pandurang Salgaonkar.
Australia have not won a Test — let alone a series– in India since 2004-05 when they defeated the hosts 2-1. Since then they lost 2-0 twice in four-game series and were whitewashed 4-0 on their last visit in 2012-13.
Also Australia’s series victory in India prior to the one in the 2004-05 had come way back in 1969-70, an indication of how tough the Aussies have found it to overcome the hosts on the slow, turning pitches in this country.
Teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandaran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya.
Australia: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), 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.
Match commences at 09:30 hours IST. (PTI)

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