Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23: Steven Smith to be Australia’s pivot for spin challenge in India; tackled Ravichandran Ashwin-Ravindra Jadeja well in Border Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17.
Even though India have begun their 2022-23 home season in a fantastic way with One Day International (ODI) series victory over Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and also a T20I series against the Lankans at the beginning of the year, their real acid test will be when they will take on Australia in the 4-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) 2022-23. India are the current holders of this prestigious trophy.
In the ongoing World Test Championship (WTC) cycle of 2021-2023, Australia hold the top spot with a 75.56 percentage of points (PCT) while hosts India are second on the table thanks to their PCT of 58.93.
Let’s take a look at how Australia’s middle order shapes up as against India’s bowling attack.
In-form Steve Smith to lead the middle order against spin
When Australia visited India for the last time in 2016-17, the captain of the team, Steve Smith was the highest run-getter for the visitors in the four-match Test series, with 499 runs at an average of 71.29, including three centuries.
The way he played that 109-run knock in the third innings of the rank-turner at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium (MCA) in Pune, displayed his sound technique to play spin; the Indian team in both innings failed to reach 109 on the same track. Smith respected the bowling but used his feet and refused to get bogged down, scoring freely on both sides of the wicket. He played Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with soft hands. As a result, he scored 132 runs against Ashwin at a high strike rate of 61.4, besides getting out for couple of times. In that series, Smith scored 122 runs against Jadeja at a strike rate of 34.4 besides getting dismissed for three times.
Overall, Smith has notched up 412 Test runs against Ashwin at a strike rate of 59.4 and average of 68.7, besides being out for six times. Against Jadeja, he has registered 181 runs at a strike rate of 33.9 and average of 45.2 getting dismissed four times. Smith has also faced Kuldeep Yadav, scoring 19 runs against him at a strike rate of 54.3 without getting dismissed.
Smith was excellent in the recently concluded two-match Test series against West Indies where he managed 255 runs in two games at an average of 127.50 and strike rate of 66.40 with a best of 200*. In the next three-match Test series against South Africa, Smith was the highest run-scorer with 231 runs in three games at an average of 57.75 and strike rate of 54.23.
In WTC 2021-2023, Steven Smith has till now smacked 1107 runs in 15 games at an average of 55.35 and strike rate of 49.84 including three centuries and six half-centuries with a best score of 200*. He is the sixth-highest run-scorer across sides in this WTC cycle. If Australia have to tackle India spinners well during the upcoming four-match Test series, Smith has to lead their middle order.
Aggressive Travis Head will try to take on Ashwin-Jadeja
If current form is a bar to select the players, then left-handed aggressive batter Travis Head will walk into the team comfortably. In the recently finished two-match Test series against West Indies, Head scored 312 runs at an average of 156 and strike rate of 91.49, while in the three-match South Africa series, he scored 213 runs in three matches at an aggressive strike rate of 100.94 and average of 53.25.
However, Head struggles to play the spinners, especially in the subcontinent, and his recent returns of 68 runs in three Tests at an average of 22.66 and strike rate of 51.51 against Pakistan during Australia’s tour of Pakistan in 2021-22 confirm that assessment. To speak about his numbers against India’s spinners, Head has scored 31 runs against Ravindra Jadeja at a strike rate of 27.2, while he has 31 runs against Ravichandran Ashwin too at a strike rate of 20.9 besides getting dismissed once. It is noteworthy though that these face-offs have not come on the spinning tracks of India. Against Kuldeep Yadav, Head has just seven runs in 17 balls getting dismissed for one single time.
Whenever spinners get a little help off the track, Head seems to have a serious issue against them even on Australia tracks which are not that beneficial for the tweakers. But his fierce batting against the spinners may come in handy for the tourists when they will find themselves under sheer pressure. Head, who has carved 973 runs in 14 games in WTC 2021-2023 at an average of 54.05 and strike rate of 84.24 with a best of 175, will try to extend his purple form.
Alex Carey to display his strong zone against spinners
One of the strong players against spinners playing on the low and slow tracks of the subcontinent is Australia’s left-handed wicketkeeper batter Alex Carey who is fairly new in Australia’s Test setup.
In that last three-match Test series in Pakistan, Carey smashed 179 runs at an average of 59.66 and strike rate of 58.30 including his best of 93 during the second Test at National Stadium in Karachi where he used his feet and soft hands to tackle the Pakistan spin attack. It must be said here that those flat pitches may not be a good place to draw the right picture of Carey’s actual abilities against spin.
During Australia’s first Test at the Galle International Stadium in Galle against Sri Lanka during the two-match Test series in 2022, Carey managed a quickfire 45 runs in 47 balls with the help of six boundaries, which helped Australia to manage those vital runs to post a good total on the board.
Carey, who has 633 runs in 15 gams in the WTC 2021-2023 cycle at an average of 39.56 and strike rate of 58.28 with a best score of 111, will try to emulate the same fashion against India’s brilliant spin attack of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. This challenge is surely going to be far harder than the earlier duels Carey has countered.
Green, Handscomb among other notable figures in the middle order
Cameron Green is going to be part of Australia’s squad for the India tour on the back of positive outings in Australia’s last two sub-continent tours against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, Green cracked an excellent 77-run knock in 109 balls coming at a difficult situation when Ramesh Mendis was asking so many questions to the batters. Green came out on top as he balanced his defensive approach with aggressive batting to stand tall in the middle.
He scored 104 runs in that two-match series at a good strike rate of 67.09 and average of 34.66 while in the three-match Test series against Pakistan, he notched up 155 runs at an average of 51.66 and strike rate of 44.92. These are decent returns without doubt, but he will face huge challenges against the top-class India spinners.
Peter Handscomb who last played a Test match back in 2019 is going to be a part of Australia’s tour of India. In his last Test series in India in 2017, Handscomb grabbed 198 runs in four games at an average of 28.28 and strike rate of 40.24. He made an impressive 70 runs off 100 balls in that series against Ashwin besides being dismissed three times, while he struggled a lot against Jadeja managing 54 runs at a strike rate of 22.8 besides couple of dismissals. Kuldeep Yadav also pocketed his wicket once in that series.
It will be interesting to see how all these middle order batters play the India spinners in Indian conditions which is going to be challenging to say the least.
Series Victory against Australia will take India to WTC final
Looking at the current table of the World Test Championship, it appears that Australia have already booked their ticket for the WTC final but the real scenario is slightly different. With their 2-0 home series win over South Africa at the start of this year, Australia have almost placed themselves in the final but the only way in which they will miss out is if they lose all their four Tests in India and Sri Lanka win both their games in New Zealand.
A 0-4 defeat in India will see Australia’s percentage of points drop to 59.65 which can be overtaken by Sri Lanka who could go up to 61.11 if they clean sweep New Zealand. However, Sri Lanka will only reach a PCT of 55.56 in case they beat New Zealand by a margin of 1-0, and that will take Australia to the final even if they lose 0-4 to India. The other part of the story is that if Australia earn one draw and lose 0-3 in India, they will still qualify for the finals unless they don’t concede any penalty point.
In case of India, if they win the home series against Australia 3-1 or better, they will qualify for the final regardless of results in other series. If India end the series with Australia 2-2 and Sri Lanka win by 2-0 in New Zealand, India will finish outside the top two positions. They could also slip behind South Africa if they collect fewer than 21 points against Australia and South Africa win 2-0 at home against West Indies. So, a 1-1 draw isn’t going to be enough for India.
The first Test of the four-match Test series will begin from February 9 at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium in Nagpur. The second Test will be played in Delhi from February 17-21. In more than a week’s time, the third Test will be played in Dharamsala from March 1-5, followed by the fourth Test in Ahmedabad from March 9-13.