Virat Kohli has never played with the same XI in Tests    Getty Images
Virat Kohli has never played with the same XI in Tests Getty Images

Team India s 13-Test long home season is finally nearing its end, as Australia, the last of the visitors this season, have landed on their shores for the four-match series that would decide the winner of Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017. It has been an extremely successful season for India, as they have vanquished all visitors, without conceding anything. Starting with the whitewash over New Zealand, followed by a 4-0 win over the England and then beating neighbours Bangladesh in the one-off Test, there is nothing wrong that the Virat Kohli-led side has done so far. Their record after the 9 Tests this season stands at 8 wins and a draw. And now, the Australians will square off with Team India, who prepare to finish their home season with a win in the four-match Test series.

The series, expected to be India s toughest assignment this season, begins with at Pune on Thursday, February 23. It will be the first Test in the city of Professor DB Deodhar, the Grand Old Man of Indian cricket. Let us take a look at the possible XIs of both the sides that may take field.

Top order

India have a settled top-order. With Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara in fine touch this season, they have little to worry about in top three. Pujara, in particular, has been unstoppable. He went past Chandu Borde s record for most runs by a batsman in an Indian First-Class season against Bangladesh. India would hope he continues with his rich vein of form against Australia as well. However, they would need KL Rahul to become more consistent. Rahul has failed to get past 30 in 14 of his 21 Test innings. India would hope for him to get runs on a consistent basis.

Australia, on the other hand, do not have a settled engine room. Apart from vice-captain David Warner, the team does not have experienced players in top three. Warner s likely partner Matt Renshaw, who has played just 4 Tests so far, is on his first overseas tour. Renshaw may find himself competing with Usman Khawaja, who, despite his experience, does not boast of an excellent record in the subcontinent. Captain Steven Smith has enjoyed decent success at No. 4 and has a better record batting at that position. But in current circumstances, on the testing tour to India, he will be expected to step up and take the vital No. 3 spot.

Middle-order

Just like the top-order, India s middle-order also wears a settled look. With Kohli at No. 4, Ajinkya Rahane at No. 5 and Wriddhiman Saha at No. 6, India s middle-order is as good as it can get. The fact that the triple-centurion Karun Nair has been forced to warm the bench underlines the strength of India s middle order.

Australia s middle-order will have Shaun Marsh at No. 4, consistent youngster Peter Handscomb at No. 5 and Mitchell Marsh at No. 6. While Marsh Sr comes into the match on the back of a fine hundred in the practice match, Handscomb will face a stern test on his first overseas tour. Marsh Jr will have to assume dual responsibilities, that of batting with the tail and adding vital runs besides chipping in with the overs.

Lower-order and bowlers

India has a lower-order worth envying, at least in home conditions. With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja at Nos. 7 and 8, it cannot get any better for them. Jayant Yadav s presence at No. 9 not only beefs up the batting, but also completes a dangerous spin troika. Jayant, who missed out on the Bangladesh Test, is all set to return for the first Test. Pace duo Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, who bowled the spell of his life at Hyderabad against Bangladesh, will complete the playing XI. That would mean that the unfortunate Bhuvneshwar Kumar will miss out.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade will take the No. 7 spot for Australia. Ever since his return in place of Peter Nevill, Wade has done a decent job both behind the stumps as well as with the bat. For the remaining four spots, Australia are likely to use two pacers and two spinners. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are expected to spearhead the pace attack, which means Jackson Bird will miss out. Nathan Lyon will lead the spin attack and Steve O Keefe is likely to accompany him, which means that Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson will miss out too.

Here are the likely XIs of the two sides for the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17 starting Thursday in Pune:

India: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Australia: David Warner, Matt Renshaw/Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Starc, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.