IND v AUS: Spotlight on Kohli and Smith as Border-Gavaskar rivalry resumes
Pune: Cricket is a team sport, and individual battles may not mean much often. But it's difficult to ignore the way the captaincy careers of India's Virat Kohli and his Australian counterpart Steven Smith have gone so far, as the two lead their teams out for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series starting with the first Test at the MCA stadium here beginning today.
Both started their captaincy careers in the same series, when India toured Australia in 2014-15. Both were the best batsmen for their respective teams in that series, and they have remained that way since.
Both have led by example; Kohli scoring 2353 runs in 23 Tests at an average of 67.22 (nine centuries), while Smith has played three Tests less and scored 2212 runs at 73.73 (nine hundreds).
The likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Starc will all have crucial roles to play for their respective sides in this series, but it could well come down to the battle of the captains when it comes to determining the final outcome of this four-match series. Man-to-man, especially in Indian conditions, the hosts start as clear favourites on a surface described by both skippers as dry.
Even the ever-positive Smith didn't contest that when he admitted that the visitors begin as underdogs, at the pre-match press conference yesterday. Recent records don't suggest otherwise either. It's a battle between a host outfit that has won eight out of nine Tests at home this season, and a visiting outfit that has lost their last nine Tests in Asia.
For the hosts to be competitive, either Smith or Warner will have to score big, with the others rallying around them. And that's going to be quite a challenge against the Indian spin attack that includes star off-spinner Ashwin and left-arm spinner Jadeja. The dryness in the surface might prompt the Indians to play a third spinner too. And with the amount of bowling Jayant Yadav has been doing at the nets in the last four days, it won't be a surprise if he makes it to the playing XI ahead of pacer Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
The other major challenge for the Aussies will be to keep the runs down as their not-so-experienced bowling attack faces up to an in-form and deep Indian batting line-up. Apart from Starc's pace, the Australians don't have much to threaten the hosts on a track that is expected to get slower and lower as the game progresses.