India vs Australia: Dean Jones backs R Ashwin for “ripper of a series”
R Ashwin will be the biggest challenge to Australia, feels Dean Jones. @Getty

Former Australia batsman Dean Jones has backed R Ashwin to have a “ripper of series” when India meet Australia for four Tests starting December 6 in Adelaide, and believes that this is the team’s best chance to seal their first Test series win in the country.

The last time India toured Australia for a Test series was in the 2014-15 season, when Steven Smith’s team won 2-0. Australia won the series opener at Adelaide Oval and the second Test in Brisbane, before the MCG and SCG Tests ended in draws. Ashwin was benched for the Adelaide Test as India put faith in the uncapped wrist-spinner Karn Sharma, who had match figures of 49-3-238-4.

In contrast, the offspinner Nathan Lyon took 12 wickets in that Test, exploiting the turn and bounce superbly to spin Australia to victory and was named Man of the Match. Ashwin slotted back for the next three Tests and took 12 wickets at an average of 48.66 and strike-rate of 85.80 to finish as India’s second-highest wicket-taker after Mohammed Shami (15).

Speaking to CricketCountry from his home in Melbourne, Jones predicted Ashwin to have a big role this time and wondered why he was left out of the Adelaide Test four years ago.

“I’m expecting Ashwin to have a ripper of a series. He had a good series last time India were here, and had he played in that first Test in Adelaide, India might have won the series,” said Jones, who played 42 Test matches. “India have a good chance, they’ve never won a Test series over here, and if they don’t I would be surprised.”

Jones believes that the biggest challenge for Australia’s batsmen will come from Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav, and hoped that Victoria captain Peter Handscomb, who has not been given a chance to add to his 13 Test caps since the ill-fated tour of South Africa, was recalled to bolster the batting.

“How Australia play Ashwin and Kuldeep is going to decisive, and that’s why I think we have to have Handscomb and Finch, who are our best players of spin, available so they can counter them,” he said.

Peter Handscomb is primed for a Test recall against Australi
Peter Handscomb is primed for a Test recall against Australia. © Getty Images

Hanscomb captained Victoria to the JLT One-Day cup title in October, in the process scoring 361 runs in seven innings at an average of 51.57, with four half-centuries. Since the Sheffield Shield got underway, Hanscomb has made 27, 48, 123 and 2. After scoring a hundred against South Australia in a draw, the 27-year-old spoke of switching back to a batting approach  that helped him score two centuries and a couple of fifties in his first four Tests for Australia.

With Australia’s Test series against India just weeks away – and uncertainty surrounding several places in the squad – Jones predicted a shuffle in Australia’s batting order, with Finch – who in his first two Tests opened the batting in the UAE – dropping down and the uncapped Victoria left-hander Marcus Harris being called up. Harris has made a strong start to the domestic season, highlighted by a unbeaten 250 against New South Wales.

“Finch opened the innings, but he will bat at No 5 at home when India come over. We’ll should have Marcus Harris into the side by then, he’s scored the most runs in the last three Sheffield Shield seasons, which is phenomenal. Matt Renshaw will play and I think Usman [Khawaja] will bat at 3,” said Jones.

Australia’s batting has been a cause of concern since the tour of South Africa in March-April, in which Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were suspended for their roles in the ball-tampering scandal. They lost all five ODIs in England, managed a draw in the first Test against Pakistan in the UAE thanks to epic contributors from Khawaja and skipper Tim Paine but were beaten by 373 runs in Abu Dhabi. In that record loss, no batsman managed a fifty in innings of 145 and 164.

A 0-3 loss to Pakistan in the T20Is followed, and last week South Africa beat Australia 2-1 in an ODI series. The loss in the first ODI was an unprecedented seventh in a row in the format and defeat in the decider  was Australia’s 18th in 21 games.

“Our batting standards have dropped because in our Sheffield Shield summer there have not been enough batsmen scoring big runs. There are huge irregularities in our batting,” said Jones. “The pitches are better for batting than we’ve ever had, and yet the batsmen aren’t scoring those big runs. Too few have been able to really cash in.

“When I first played for Australia, there were only 13 guys who did not have a Test hundred. Now there’s like 30 of 40. I wonder now with all the analytics, if there’s a wonderful analytical study being done by captain and coaches and management teams that is finding holes in batsmen’s techniques more than even before. There’s a definite sign that its happening and that’s why you see so many batsman struggling to score Test hundreds.

“If this is happening and continues to happen, maybe its time that batsmen take out time to work on their games to improve their skills in Test cricket,” he said. “But they will struggle to do so because of how many T20 games are played. With so many leagues, it is difficult, but maybe that should be the way to do it.”

The first Test between India and Australia starts on December 6 in Adelaide.