Starting February 22, Australia will set out to achieve something they haven’t done in eight years – win a Test series in India.
And with the recent retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, our chances are seemingly slim.
But despite the fact that we have lost over 200 matches of experience at Test level, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
Shane Watson will return to the side after missing the final Test against Sri Lanka this summer and should anchor the middle of Australia’s batting order with Michael Clarke.
Despite expressing his desire to return to the top of the line-up where he has been most successful in his career, Australia will retain the duo of Ed Cowan and David Warner to face the new ball, leaving Watson to slot in at number four ahead of Clarke.
Cowan and Warner will be under immense pressure to get the Aussies off to a good start, but should prosper in the Indian conditions. Warner has developed into a genuine Test opener and his out-and-out attacking style will knock the shine off the new ball quickly.
Despite averaging just 27 in the three-Test series against Sri Lanka, Cowan has earned another chance with scores of 58, 40 and 53 in Australia's two practice matches. He averaged 46 against South Africa – the number one team in the world – and justified his position in the team with his maiden Test century at the Gabba.
If he heeds the advice of former Test opener and prolific run-scorer in India – Matthew Hayden – and adopts the sweep-shot to the spinners, we could see a huge series from the diminutive left-hander.
And regardless of where Watson slots into the batting order, his presence will be a huge boost as Australia attempts to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
On their last tour of India in 2010-11, Watson was the leading run-scorer for the tourists with 271 runs at an average of 68. He smashed his second and last Test century on that tour and has the proven track record to perform in the sub-continent.
Aside from an appalling 2010-11 series in which he scored just 47 runs at an average of nine, Clarke has also performed well in India. Before that tour, he had racked up 651 runs at 47 in the spin-friendly conditions, including a stunning 151 on debut in 2004.
On top of a career year 2012 in which he amassed a record-breaking 1,545 runs at 101, Clarke has established himself as one of the game’s best players of spin, and his batting style and footwork should lead to more runs on this tour.
Medium-pace bowling all-rounder Moises Henriques has been picked to make his debut in the first Test and will bat at number seven behind wicket-keeper Mathew Wade. The Portuguese-born New South Welshman got the nod ahead of spinning all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith after impressing selectors with 4-12 and 1-30 in Australia’s two lead-up matches.
Australia has resisted the temptation to play a spinning all-rounder and will use Clarke as their second spinner behind Nathan Lyon. Australia’s captain has 30 wickets at Test level at the respectable average of 36.6 and has had bowling success in India in the past, including his memorable 6-9 at Mumbai in 2004. Warner’s more than handy leg-spin could also see some overs.
Lyon has established himself as Australia’s best spinner since Shane Warne and should find success on India’s dry, turning pitches. The right-arm off-spinner was Australia’s leading wicket-taker against the top ranked South Africans and achieved the same feat on Australia’s last overseas tour to the West Indies in similar conditions to the sub-continent.
If Lyon makes the most of the spin-inducive conditions, we could very easily see a repeat of Jason Krezja’s dominant display in Nagpur in 2008, where the offie took 12 wickets on debut.
And with Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Jackson Bird all in the squad, Australia has five outstanding fast bowlers to fill three spots. With the exception of Pattinson, who has missed Australia’s last four Tests with a side strain but is a genuine wicket-taker when fit, everyone is in red-hot form. With four Tests to play and the selectors still favouring the rotation policy, expect all five to see some game time during the series.
Since the inauguration of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 1996-97, Australia has won just four Tests in 13 attempts in the sub-continent. But despite this atrocious record, they will come into this series in better shape than their hosts, who are vulnerable after losing their first home series to England in 28 years, dropping them to fifth in the ICC Test rankings just two years after they were the top team in the world.
Australia team for first Test: Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade, Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell (12th man).