A Test rivalry high on epic contests and stirring comebacks gets its latest edition as India and Australia face off in the first Test at Nagpur from Thursday. The Ashes and games involving India and Pakistan have their share of history and hype and within that ecosystem, India and Australia have fashioned a unique fabric that has shimmered bright ever since V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh dished out magic at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in 2001. There should be riveting fare during this four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, a silverware upon which India has had a better hold especially during the last decade, be it at home or away. The usual surround-sound may have been muted and only now have whispers started about spin-friendly pitches. While that surface tension lingers, Usman Khawaja’s delayed departure to India over a visa issue does not reflect well on bureaucratic red tape that perhaps got triggered since the Australian’s roots are in Pakistan. Pat Cummins and his men have trained away from the flashbulbs, preferring to be holed up at the Alur ground on the outskirts of Bengaluru. On abrasive pitches against their own spinners and local talent, Steve Smith and company have finessed their skill sets against the slow art.
As the Test caravan moves across Nagpur, Delhi, Dharamshala and Ahmedabad, a lot more is at stake in this bilateral skirmish. The ICC Test Championship is heading towards its business end with the final scheduled at London’s Oval from June 7 to 11. June may seem far, but, for the Test cycle, there is not much time left as April and May are linked to the Indian Premier League T20 tournament. Australia with 75.56 percentage points leads the table ahead of India (58.93), Sri Lanka (53.33) and South Africa (48.72). With one foot in the final, Australia will sail through even with one draw and three losses against India. However, a 0-4 drubbing from India in tandem with Sri Lanka defeating New Zealand twice, would mean that Cummins and gang will miss the final. Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma’s men can keep their championship hopes alive by winning the series 4-0 or 3-1. However, a 2-2 draw against Australia along with Sri Lanka winning 2-0 in New Zealand would mean that India will fall below the top two and miss the summit clash. The Indian squad holds the edge but Australia is keen to rewrite history. And the cherry on the cake would be a berth in the Test championship final.
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