India host Australia in the first of the four-match Test series in Pune, one of three new Test venues for the tour, from Thursday. The hosts are heading into the game on the back of a solid home season in which they decimated New Zealand, England and Bangladesh and have also remained unbeaten in their last 19 Tests.
On the other hand, Steve Smith's men blanked Pakistan 3-0 at home after losing their previous two assignments - 3-0 to Sri Lanka on the road and 2-1 to South Africa at home. Their recent record in Asia does not look encouraging as well (nine-match losing streak) and it is likely to worsen in the coming weeks.
After an intense training stint in Dubai on spin-friendly conditions, Australia warmed up for the stiff test with a three-day practice match against India A. Skipper Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh struck centuries after which spinners Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe snared seven wickets between them, which would have boosted the morale of the visiting camp.
While all eyes will be Lyon and O'Keefe to shoulder the responsibility of tackling the in-form Indian batsmen, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will also be key to their campaign, if they can find reverse swing. Notably, the left-arm pacer was Australia's highest wicket-taker (24 wickets in three matches at 15.16) during their defeat in Sri Lanka.
Opener David Warner, who struggled last time when Australia were in India, is already scoring at 73.40 this year. The left-hander along with Smith and Marsh have to score big if their team is to stand a chance against the hosts as the middle order, consisting the likes of Peter Handscomb and Matthew Wade, looks weak with very little exposure to sub-continent conditions.
Top-ranked Test bowlers Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be Australia's biggest threats and the duo, which collected 53 wickets during the 2012/13 series, will be hoping to end the home season on a high. India's batting unit also looks complete with skipper Kohli, who has struck three double centuries in his last three series, leading it.
The Pune Test will provide a platform for Kohli and Co. to assess Australia's preparation. With Jayant Yadav likely to play as third spinner for India, the visitors are set for a trial by spin.
Malaysia: Astro Cricket
India: Star Sports 1, 3
Australia: Fox Sports
New Zealand: Sky Sport
UK: Sky Sports 2
US: Willow TV
South Africa: Supersport
Middle East: OSN Sports
Possible XI: Kohli (c), Rahul, Vijay, Pujara, Rahane, Saha (wk), Ashwin, Jadeja, Jayant, Ishant, Yadav
Possible XI: Smith (c), Warner, Renshaw, Marsh, Handscomb, M Marsh, Wade (wk), Lyon, O'Keefe, Starc, Hazlewood