Australian bowler Pat Cummins reaches for the ball on the second day of the fourth Test cricket match between South Africa and Australia won by South Africa at Wanderers cricket ground on March 31, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. / AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

At last, Test cricket receives a proper opportunity to shine in the spotlight once more, this time with an elite set of actors and casting crew who are set to produce a most entertaining and absorbing show for the ages.

The coveted Border-Gavaskar series is upon us, and cricket fans all over the world will be watching with anticipation as the likes of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, David Warner, Ravichandran Ashwin and co battle it out with one eye on the ICC World Test Championship in June.

Recent contests between these two proud cricketing nations have never been short of aggression, competitiveness, and strong tensions especially since India's global impact on the game of late. Expect this series to be no different.  

Whilst the word on the street is that India should emerge as the eventual victors of this four-Test tussle, the quiet yet steely determination of the Australians and their thorough and meticulous preparation in the build-up to this series shows that they too are aware of the challenge that lie ahead.

Both Australia and India will admit that they've been playing Test cricket on easy mode coming into this series. The Australians know that the confidence gained from their recent shellacking of South Africa and the West Indies in their home Test summer will count for nothing against an Indian batting line-up capable of dismantling any bowling attack on their soil in a matter of minutes.  

Similarly, India last played a two-Test series against Bangladesh in December which they won comfortably in the end despite losing seven wickets in the pursuit of 145 for victory in the second Test, with the likes of Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and enterprising wicket-keeper batter Rishabh Pant all finding solid form with the bat.

Australia's home summer of Test cricket was really a display of devastating fast bowling coupled with fill-your-boots batting, as the likes of Khawaja, Warner, Labuschagne and Head feasted on some predominantly mediocre opposition bowling throughout both series to boost their run-scoring credentials.  

With the completion of these two dress-rehearsal Test series, the real show can now commence, and what a spectacle it has been in recent years. 

“Winning in India would be bigger than the Ashes,” remarked Australian Test captain Pat Cummins on the eve of the first Test.

He's right.

From October 2004, Australia have not claimed a Test series win against India on their home soil, with only one Test match victory in 14 attempts since Adam Gilchrist leads his side across the final frontier in Nagpur.

Interestingly, the Australians have displayed a highly demure and indifferent mood coming into this series, with Cummins stating that this Test series was just another one, drawing on recent successes against Pakistan and Sri Lanka to highlight Australia's confidence with tackling subcontinental conditions.  

However, as ESPNCricinfo writer Alex Malcolm writes, this isn't just another tour, it is the “hardest Test tour in the world.” It took 35 years for Australia to claim that mercurial drought-breaking Test series win in 2004.

From that day onwards India slowly transformed from meek underdogs to behemoths of the red-ball game in every Border-Gavaskar series since.

This was partly accelerated by their rapidly increasing financial and political influence in the game thanks to the emergence of the IPL, however this exponential investment into their white-ball game did not detract from their goal to dominate Test cricket at all. It only strengthened it. 

Indeed, what has made red-ball matches between these two teams so fascinating over the years has been a remarkable change in attitude and mindset by the Indians when playing against Australia be it at home or away. Gone are the days when a feeble India hid behind the individual successes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni and VVS Laxman to take them over the line.

Gone are the days when securing a draw against the ‘mighty' Aussies felt like a win.

Recent history between these two cricketing powerhouses have shown that India's gritty, never-say-die approach to playing against Australia has produced some of the most enthralling and tantalising contests of late.

Inadvertently the Border-Gavaskar trophy has proven to be the best advertisement for Test cricket as it struggles to compete with the juggernaut that is Twenty20.   

There have been some brilliant Border-Gavaskar matches since the turn of the millennium which highlight why Test cricket between Australia and India continues to be the marquee event of the red-ball game today.

Who can forget the famous Kolkata Test match of 2001, where India was lagging behind Australia for four consecutive days until they miraculously bowled out the visitors on the final day to secure one of the greatest comebacks wins ever seen in the history of the game.

VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted like men possessed in that match, as they singlehandedly dragged their country out of the mire to script a fairy-tale victory that no one saw coming.  

Or what about Adelaide 2003, when a blitzkrieg 242 from Ricky Ponting still wasn't enough as Dravid once again steered his country to a famous win to ensure India would go on to draw that series.

It was considered an amazing effort against an all-conquering Australia who were at the zenith of their powers back then.

This effort was then succeeded by Tendulkar's incredible 241 in the 2004 Sydney Test which was an absorbing display of discipline and concentration as he accumulated those runs without playing his favourite shot, the extra-cover drive as it brought about his undoing at the time.  

Four years later, India was once again battling for a scrappy draw in the Sydney Test until Michael Clarke did the unthinkable, picking up three wickets in the final over of the final day as Australia stole a victory out of nowhere, leaving a distraught Kumble wondering what more he could have done to save his beleaguered side. 

The more recent contests between these two teams have truly shown India's comeuppance as a powerhouse of the red-ball game, when in 2018 they became the first Asian country to defeat Australia in a Test series on their home soil.

It proved to be a breakthrough year for Jasprit Bumrah, who collected an astonishing six-fa in the Boxing Day Test to derail the Aussies and secure his place as India's premier fast bowler.  

India did it all again in the 2019-20 Border-Gavaskar trophy in Australia which honestly should be considered one of the greatest Test series of all time, given how it started and how depleted of resources they were coming into that contest.

To be all out for 36 in Adelaide to then claim the series by defeating the Aussies at home at the ‘Gabba where they had not lost a Test for over 30 years is truly a script for the ages. Test cricket doesn't get any better than that.  

And so as the dust settles on a crumbling Nagpur pitch, we are fortunate to witness yet another mouth-watering buffet of tantalising Test cricket between these two sides who fight until the very end.

It will be interesting to see how Khawaja, Warner and Smith play as they approach the twilight of their careers with Warner looking to arrest his poor Test batting record in India. Nathan Lyon will certainly have an important role to play throughout this Test series, with his young understudy Todd Murphy is set to receive a thorough examination of his off-spin bowling talents.  

For the home team, expect Kohli to have a significant say both with the bat and in the field. No doubt he will be sledging the Aussies fiercely to remind them of their recent performances against his power-packed side. Pujara will continue to bat in monk-mode, whilst the selection of Suryakumar Yadav is fascinating one and it will be interesting to see how fares as a Test batter, given his superhuman exploits in the white-ball game of late.

Ravichandran Ashwin is set to be the leading wicket-taker for this series, and he'll be ably supported by the fast-bowling services of Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj.