India v Australia
Thursday 9 February, 04:00
TV: Live on BT Sports
India are far from a settled side for this first Test, even if they have the potential to field a strong and balanced XI thanks to the return of Ravi Jadeja. He is one of six locks.
They must, however, decide on an opening partner for Rohit Sharma, a wicketkeeper, a middle-order batter and bowling slots.
KL Rahul is the official vice-captain so there is surprise there is debate about whether he opens again. It is possible he could bat in the middle-order and take the gloves with Shubman Gill opening instead. Ishan Kishan probably keeps wicket, though
Otherwise Gill and Suryakumar Yadav compete for a middle-order spot and India pick four spinners. That would seem overkill. Instead, Axar Patel is likely to pip Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammad Siraj gets the nod over Umesh.
Possible XI: Rohit, Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Yadav, Ishan, Jadeja, Axar, Ashwin, Shami, Siraj
Australia don't have India's embarrassment of riches. They are patching the side up before a ball has been bowled. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cameron Green are all non-starters with injury.
So a safety-first approach is likely. Scott Boland, a steady Eddie, comes in with Ashton Agar taking on all-rounder duty. An extra batter is likely to be picked with either Matt Renshaw or Peter Handscomb getting the call.
Possible XI: Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Smith, Head, Handscomb/Renshaw, Carey, Cummins, Agar, Boland, Lyon
The pitch is reported to be dry already with cracks appearing. Steve Smith has said he expects plenty of spin. This should be expected. India will want a spinning surface and given that groundsmen have been sacked in the country this season for not producing what the hosts want, a turning Nagpur track is normal.
The last Test there was in 2017 and Jadeja and Ashwin took 13 Sri Lankan wickets in a rout.
It is tempting to short Australia runs. But their record in Asia in their first dig is good in the last five years. They average 33 per wicket. This may eb the trickiest surface theyve faced in that time in terms of taking spin. Shorting 270-odd on the par line at the toss or in-play is solid.
How to play
India are 1.784/5 with Australia 3.711/4 and the draw 6.86/1. If India bat first when the wicket is at its best, the draw price will collapse with big runs. That's the first play possible.
Otherwise it is very hard to see how a depleted Australia stave off defeat. Spin, as you would expect, is their weakness. Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja carry their hopes. With a possible five lefties in the top seven, Jadeja, Ashwin and Axar all turning the ball away from them is a dangerous combo.
It has to be said that we're keeping our eyes on the market about the Test lasting four days. Backing no at around 4.03/1 could be an option.
We're keen on Jadeja for man of the match on his comeback because his batting prowess might give him the edge when he's in a bunfight for wickets with the otehr two spinners. He is 9/1.
With the bat, Virat Kohli has a double on this ground so the 7/2 about a first-innings ton has appeal. There is a rick on the top runscorer market for India with Ishan likely to be appaled at his 20/1 rating.
Australia's Holy Trinity of Smith, Labuschagne and Khawaja are fancies for first-innings fifties at 5/4, 11/8 and 17/10 respectively. It would make sense to favour the right-handers, though. We note Pat Cummins for top Aussie bat in first dig at 80/1.