The 2017 India-Australia series has added another cracking chapter into this ever growing cricket rivalry. Australia came into this series as rank underdogs. The odds were always against them with India building up a formidable home record beating the likes of New Zealand and a strong English side. To add to India’s favourite tag was the fact that Australia had just lost a home series to the Proteas.
Hence, it was a huge jolt when the visitors won the Pune Test handsomely, bowling out India for paltry scores. The Bangalore Test was a litmus test for the Indian side with questions being asked of their world number 1 ranking and their tendency to fall apart when confronted with an aggressive opponent. The first innings was a repeat of the shambolic performance in the first Test.
But, a dogged bowling performance in the Australian first innings and a heroic second innings partnership between Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara restored order. The partnership was a momentum shift which galvanised the bowling attack, helping India win comfortably at the end. This has put the series in fine balance with two more Tests to go.
As the teams move to Ranchi for the crucial third Test, let us look at five players who will make an impact and decide who snares the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017.
#1 Ravichandran Ashwin
Ravichandran Ashwin has been a stellar performer in the grand home season of 2016/17 for India. Understandably, the expectations were stratospheric when the critical Australia tests began. By his incredible standards, Ashwin underperformed in the first Test at Pune. His usually dependable batting skills have not been of great help to the Indian cause, too.
The second Test changed all that. Even though he didn’t pick up a bunch of wickets in the first innings, he was economical and disciplined which helped Ravindra Jadeja reap the benefits. Come the second innings, Ashwin was back to his lethal best, winning the Test match for India with a brilliant 6 for 41.
With that, he has smelt blood and it won't be a surprise if he again runs through the Aussie batting order.
#2 Virat Kohli
It has been an unusually dour series for Virat Kohli with the bat considering his Bradman-esque form throughout 2016. Australia are one of his favourite opponents and they get the best out of his aggressive attitude on and off the pitch.
Considering all that, this series has been a frustrating one for Kohli. Have the Australians found a chink in his armour or is he just like a dormant volcano waiting to explode, the third Test will give us answers about Kohli's ability to bounce back from failures.
He has always been a captain who has led from the front and would be raring to score big runs against his favourite nemesis, the Aussies.
#3 Glenn Maxwell
The Australian think tank would be more than pleased with the way their team has competed in this series, given the way they were written off even before they landed on Indian shores. Smith’s captaincy and batting have been inspirational, except for the ‘brain fade’ episode. Peter Handscomb has brought back memories of Eknath Solkar with his fantastic close fielding skills and fleet-footed batting.
The spinners have done an excellent job, as well, even outshining the famed spin duo of Ashwin and Jadeja.
The only sour note in the line-up has been Mitchell Marsh whose selection was questioned across the Australian media. He has done nothing to silence his critics. Marsh getting injured has however helped the Aussie management look at other alternatives. Glenn Maxwell, if selected, is one such player that can turn things in a matter of a few overs.
The ‘Big Show’ has had his share of doubters, but even his haters won't deny his prodigious talent as a matchwinner. With his belligerent batting and useful off spin bowling, he can be one of the players that can create a huge impact in this series.
#4 Ajinkya Rahane
Rahane has been one of the most consistent performers for India in the Test arena. With centuries all across the world in different conditions, his talent and value has never been under question. However, he has suffered some indifferent form for the past few months.
An injury to him made way for Karun Nair who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and then some, scoring a triple hundred against England. Rahane’s place was unfairly debated by some in the media which was immediately dispelled by his coach and teammates.
He proved them right with a series-changing 50 in tandem with another of India’s Test gems, Cheteshwar Pujara. This partnership, even though not as huge, reminded us of the famous Laxman-Dravid partnership in Kolkata 2001 which completely changed the series. Rahane is due for a big one and this 50 might exactly be the kind of innings which will kick off another run glut season.
#5 David Warner
David Warner is arguably the most important batsman after Steve Smith in the Australian team. An aggressive batsman, Warner can take the game away from the opposition in the blink of an eye. His indifferent form has helped the Indian cause.
Ashwin seems to have the measure of Warner yet again, which was crucial in India defending such a small total in the fourth innings. Warner is critical for Australia to win the next two matches. His form will play a huge role in deciding the fate of this interesting series.
Warner has always been a dogged fighter and it is important that he clicks at the top for Australia to have a chance to win this series. It would not be a surprise if the old Warner returns to his dashing best and scores a century before lunch.