And Australia, who are without two of their star batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, who are serving bans, seem ripe for the picking.
The tourists, No.1 on the MRF Tyres ICC Test Team Rankings, are only too aware, though, of the dangers a side can pose at home. Besides, they know they will be facing young players highly determined to make an mark for themselves in the new set-up. As Usman Khawaja and co. showed against Pakistan in Dubai, they are still capable of a scrap. Throw into the mix India’s poor record in Australia, and, as Justin Langer, Australia’s coach, pointed out, Kohli’s men will be “under great pressure”, as ICC report on Wednesday said.
Naming their 12 on the eve of the game, they left out Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav, going with a four-man bowling attack of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
The choice in the final XI will likely be between Rohit Sharma and Hamuma Vihari, with Vihari providing a bowling option as well if he is picked.
Much of the focus will be on Kohli, with the Australians looking hard for chinks in his armour. But the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay, who have tasted success before in Australia, too will pose a threat. The Indian batsmen were in poor form in England, struggling against swing and seam, but will back themselves to do well in Australian conditions against the Kookaburra ball.
Australia’s main threat is their first-choice pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. With the trio fit and finally reunited, the team will look to them to make early inroads into the opposition line-up. The canny Nathan Lyon will be backing them up. The spinner, after all, does have a good record against Kohli.
Marcus Harris is set to make his debut, with Mitchell Marsh, one of the two vice-captains, missing out as the team look to boost their batting. Of the others, Travis Head could chip in with part-time spin.
The last time the teams met in the format, there was plenty of tension and words exchanged. But since then, both teams have come a long way. The spirit of competition remains high, but in an atmosphere of respect.
Australia: Tim Paine (c, wk), Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc
India: Virat Kohli (c), KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah. (UNI)