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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Australia v India predictions: Virat Kohli to end wait to win Test series down under

Three of The National's sport editors give their opinions on who will come out on top in the four-match series and which individuals will excel

Virat Kohli of India looks on during an Indian training session at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday. Getty Images
Virat Kohli of India looks on during an Indian training session at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday. Getty Images

Since their first tour down under in 1948/49, India have never been able to beat Australia in a Test series there.

Ordinarily, therefore, Australia should start as favourites. But the home team have had issues to deal with, such as the absences of Steve Smith and David Warner as both players serve 12-month bans in the fall out of the ball-tampering scandal. The Australian establishment has also had to look at its cricketing culture after the incident, as a result of which India are likely to face a kinder, gentler team when the first Test gets under way in Adelaide on Thursday.

But what do The National's staff think as Virat Kohli's No 1 Test side look to prevail over Tim Paine's Australia.

Here are their views on who to watch out for and what they think the outcome will be.

Graham Caygill, Sports Editor

Who is going to win: Even though Australia’s batting is weakened without the banned Steve Smith and David Warner they still have the bowling in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to limit India. But, India were harshly done by the 4-1 series loss to England. They put in their best performance on English soil in a long time and if they can match that effort here, perhaps with some more support with the bat for Virat Kohli, and a famous victory is on the horizon for the Indians. Prediction: India 3-1

Best batsman and why: Virat Kohli. Sorry to be predictable but the India’s captain is going to be critical to this series. If he scores well then he can give his side the chance to be competitive as he did in England. There may still be questions on his captaincy and decision making, but there are no doubts on his skill with the bat. He hit four hundreds in the 2014-15 tour. Australia are not as formidable as they were then and a similar effort this time from Kohl can set his side up to prevail.

History says Usman Khawaja lacks consistency and too often gets out when well set. Getty Images
History says Usman Khawaja lacks consistency and too often gets out when well set. Getty Images

Best bowler and why: Mitchell Starc. If Australia are going to win they need their bowling attack to shine. Starc has the x-factor and an ability to take wickets at vital times and Tim Paine will need that. Australia’s batsmen may struggle for big scores so he is going to need his bowlers to take wickets quickly, and cheaply, and Starc can do that.

Player to watch: Ishant Sharma. The fast decks in Australia should suit Ishant and his height should provide enough bounce and pace to really trouble the Australia batting line-up. He stepped up his game in England and he can do it again here.

Player to disappoint: Usman Khawaja. Australia’s batting lacks experience and Khawaja showed some good mettle in the UAE during the Test series defeat to Pakistan in October. When he gets in he can really score well and be a nuisance to opponents. But history says he lacks consistency and too often gets out when well set. Australia need some big scores from him, but he may struggle to do it at the regularity needed by his side for them to be successful.

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Kumar Shyam, Production Editor

Who is going to win: This is India's best chance to win their first series ever down under, but too often they have flattered to deceive. On paper, Australia have the weaker of what should be a balanced side. A poor session here and a bad patch of form there to someone vital (read Virat Kohli) could mean a golden opportunity missed for the tourists. The three-day practice game, during which India conceded 500 runs, also does not give me much confidence to back a series victory. India will win either the first Test at Adelaide or the third game at Melbourne and come close in another. The Perth result will most likely go in Australia's favour. The traditionally poor travellers will then find it difficult to force a win in the last match at Sydney. Prediction: Series drawn 1-1

Best batsman and why: Virat Kohli. No contest. India's captain has flourished during past tours of Australia, where he has made five centuries in eight Tests and averages 62 – more than his Test average of 55.57. The man revels when he is the target man, and the one thing that the whole of Australia will perhaps be discussing is how to get him out. According to media reports, Kohli has spent a considerable amount of time – since he stepped on Australian soil – rectifying any chinks he may have in his batting technique. Signs are ominous.

India fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah could end up being the highest wicket-taker in the series. Getty Images
India fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah could end up being the highest wicket-taker in the series. Getty Images

Best bowler and why: Jasprit Bumrah. Pitches down under are tailored to suit fast bowlers. Logically, an Australian bowler should be on this list here. But Mitchell Marsh is out of form, while Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins could end up sharing the spoils such that none strikes out. Bumrah could well have the last laugh with regard to the column for number of wickets. He lends the X-factor behind the steady and experienced pair of Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His slinging action while hitting the deck could be a handful for at least four left-handed batsmen Australia may field in their XI. The occasional ball which keeps low will also work to his advantage. He arrives in Australia rested and fresh.

Player to watch: Prithvi Shaw. He will miss the first Test due to an injury, but the attention on him will still be massive if and when he plays the remaining three matches. India will definitely take time to adapt, and any one of the top-order batsmen is more likely to disappoint and make way for Shaw sooner than later. It will be interesting to see how he adapts, seeing that he has been branded the 'Kohli-Tendulkar'.

Player to disappoint: Tim Paine. Matches between Australia and India involve gamemanship as much as they are about the contest between bat and ball. If sledging is Australia's favourite tool, Virat Kohli revels in it, and he can take the Indian team along, too. This is where Tim Paine's captaincy will come into focus. Even as he leads his team in a Test series on home soil for the first time, he is attempting to usher in a new era away from the trademark brash culture within the team. Each step he takes that goes wrong could precipitate Australia's fall from grace. Worse, his batting seems to have suffered in the limited run of three matches for a rookie captain.

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Pat Cummins will prove a handful for the Indian batsmen during the next few weeks. Getty Images
Pat Cummins will prove a handful for the Indian batsmen during the next few weeks. Getty Images

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, Assistant Sports Editor

Who is going to win: Virat Kohli's men have problems with their batting even though they are the No 1 Test side in the world. But then the Australians are going through their struggles at the moment. If the hosts can rack up scores in excess of 300, they could give India problems given their best bowling attack will likely be in action. But India know they have a huge opportunity to win their first Test series on Australian soil. I expect Kohli to bear the burden of posting competitive totals and give his bowlers the best chance to dismiss the weak Australian batting line up. Easier said than done of course, and Australia will not give up without a fight, but the England tour will have toughened the Indian players. This series is theirs to lose. Prediction: India 2-1

Best batsman and why: Virat Kohli. Not just because he is the best batsman in the world at the moment and that he has scored plenty of runs in Australia already, but also since there doesn't seem to be anyone in either side who can give the India captain competition. Usman Khawaja is Australia's best Test batsman right now, but he can be hit-and-miss - as can be Shaun Marsh. Expect Kohli's consistency, his pre-eminence and the determination to create history in Australia to fuel his rise to the top of the run chart.

Best bowler and why: Pat Cummins. Australia's biggest strength is their fast bowling line up. And the most impressive of their three best pacemen is Cummins. The right-armer does not have the experience of either Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood, but he is their most lethal right now. He bends his back, bowls really fast and just doesn't know when to give up. He was a revelation on the comparatively milder Indian pitches when Australia visited the subcontinent in 2017, hence one can only imagine how much more successful he can be in home conditions. The only caveat? He needs to find a way to stay fit for all four Tests. If he does, he could make the difference between victory and defeat.

Player to watch: Aaron Finch. It night be an odd choice for a 32-year-old player who has represented Australia in 148 internationals across three formats. But the opening batsman is something of an unknown commodity in Test cricket. He has played just two matches - both against Pakistan in the UAE last month. But Finch is a senior in the side already, and he captains the team in limited-overs matches so he knows just as well as the rest the importance of not just beating India at home but resurrecting his side's lately sagging fortunes. He will find the conditions more suited to his aggressive batting style so expect some big hits and perhaps, match-swaying knocks from the right-hander.

Player to disappoint: Shaun Marsh. He was supposed to be Australia's go-to guy in pressure situations. He proved that 10 years ago in the Indian Premier League. He also proved that on occasion for Australia in Tests and one-day internationals. But he has been strangely inconsistent for a player who has been around the national team for a decade. He flopped against the visiting Indians in 2010/11 - which was meant to be his breakout year - but has been blow hot, blow cold every time he has had the opportunity to play Test cricket. At 35, it doesn't seem likely this will the Indian summer he is hoping for.