GALLE, SRI LANKA - JULY 08: Australian batsmen Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith run between wickets during day one of the Second Test in the series between Sri Lanka and Australia at Galle International Stadium on July 08, 2022 in Galle, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

The Border-Gavaskar Trophy will finally get underway today in Nagpur, although you'd be forgiven for thinking the match had already been run and won, such has been the commotion on first look at a dry, seemingly heavily prepared pitch.

Pitch chat - and the amount of turn it takes - will dominate the proceedings throughout the first Test, with the toss set to be a crucial factor again.

Simply put, batting fourth on this dry monster of a deck will be one of the toughest assignments any team can face anywhere in global cricket, although, judging by images, it's not going to be a great deal easier at any point during the match.

But no matter who bats first, or what the end result is in Nagpur, it can't take away from the simple fact that Australia have been outclassed by India the last three times these two sides have met, with two of those coming in Australia.

India won 2-1 in both 2018-19 and 2020-21, with the first of those series being the infamous summer without the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal trio, and the second being where India were rolled for just 36 in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval before bouncing back to win two of the next three and retain the trophy.

That, in short, means India have the wood over Australia coming into this series, having also won each of the last four series in India by scorelines of 2-1, 4-0, 2-0 and 2-0. They have dropped just one of the last 14 Tests between the two nations in India, while also only having to settle for a draw on 3 occasions. That's 10 wins out of the last 14 Tests in India against Australia.

Their recent form at home is even more incredible - dating back to their last series loss at home against England in 2012-13, India have won a staggering 34 of their last 42 Tests on home soil, with another 6 drawn.

That's just two losses at home in Test cricket over what is essentially a decade-long period of dominance for India.

And while India's form has them on the precipice of qualifying for the World Test Championship final with an even remotely successful series against Australia, there has been one side who has performed above the level of India over the last two years - since the first World Test Championship final which Australia missed, and awoke the sleeping beheamoth of the cricket world.

That is Australia.

This Australian team is as strong, and as settled as it has been since 2006 when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer all hung up the bat at the same time, just weeks after Damien Martyn walked away from the game, and not long before the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden gave it away.

Since retaining the Ashes with a 2-all draw in England during 2019, Australia have won six of their eight series, only losing to India and drawing away against Sri Lanka.

It's a win in Sri Lanka, as well as a winning series where plenty of grit with the bat was shown in Pakistan during the last 12 months which will give Pat Cummins and his side confidence that they may be able to succeed in India though.

But India is the ultimate challenge - of that there can be no doubt.

Cummins' side also come into the first Test without three of their biggest weapons in Mitchell Starc, who is the king of reverse swing bowling, Cameron Green, who provides the side with excellent versatility, and Josh Hazlewood, whose line, length and consistency make him a weapon anywhere in the world.

Given the pitch looks to have been doctored to work against Australia's left-handed batting brigade, it's hard to suggest anything other than Peter Handscomb - who averaged 35 in Test cricket in the sub-continent - to bat at six on the back of his incredible two Sheffield Shield seasons.

He will claim the spot over Matt Renshaw, who is another left-hander, while the talk is that Australia will play three spinners alongside Pat Cummins, with Todd Murphy to debut, and one of Ashton Agar and Mitch Swepson to play alongside incumbent Nathan Lyon.

The last time Australia did that was in the second Test of their 2017 tour in Bangladesh - a Test they loss - so it's a big call to go with three spinners and only one specialist pace bowler.

The left-handers troubles against spin will certainly work against the Aussies, but Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are two of the best players of spin in the world, while Travis Head and Alex Carey have plenty to prove.

The questions will surround David Warner coming into the series given his horrendous record in India which sees him average well under 30.

While Warner and the left-handers may be the questions facing Australia for the first Test in Nagpur, it's hard to suggest India have any real dilemas.

Rishabh Pant's injury had the potential to create one, but either Srikar Bharat (4707 first class runs at 37.95) or 24-year-old young gun Ishan Kishan (2985 first class runs at 38.76) will be ready to walk straight into the side.

Jasprit Bumrah is also missing, but all the talk is that India may only play one quick, with a four-pronged spin attack to battle the dustbowl at Nagpur.

All of Ravichandran Ashwin (who has taken 312 wickets at 21.16 in 51 Tests on home soil), Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav could play, while Ravindra Jadeja is a certainty, and provides the real difference between the two sides. The bowling all-rounder will bat at seven, but where Australia don't have a genuine spinning all-rounder, India do, and it means they can vary their attack effectively to suit the conditions.

Jadeja has given teams absolute hell on Indian soil too, taking 172 wickets at 20.66, and also averaging just 18.85 against Australia in all conditions with the ball. His form in Test cricket with the ball has lacked in the last two years, but it's not difficult to understand the threat he poses, while he also has a Test batting average of 36.56 which is well ahead of most number sevens around the world.

England v India - 3rd Vitality IT20

Jadeja will prove to be a huge difference, but India's batting line-up is also rock solid, with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara again holding the key behind opening batsmen Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul.

This is a side who are on top of the cricketing world, and with good reason - but not only that, they are ruthless, and rightly come into this series as heavy favourites.

Prediction
If Australia to make a decent fist out of this, it's going to come down to the runs that Labuschagne, Smith and Khawaja are able to provide in the top order - and contributions from Warner.

A lack of runs has always been the problem on the sub-continent, and that will come even more into focus if Lyon can hold his own and continue his status as one of the best spin bowlers in the world, having performed strongly on the sub-continent in 2022 to be the second top wicket-taker of the calendar year.

That said, it's hard to see, even if they do win the toss, Australia having their way with India in Nagpur to start the series, particularly with only a week to acclimatise and no practice game.

India to go up 1-0.

Key information

Dates: Thursday, February 9 - Monday, February 13
Time: 3pm (AEDT)
Venue: Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Jamtha, Nagpur

Likely XIs

India
1. Rohit Sharma (c)
2. KL Rahul (vc)
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
4. Virat Kohli
5. Shubman Gill
6. Srikar Bharat (wk)
7. Ravindra Jadeja
8. Ravichandran Ashwin
9. Kuldeep Yadav
10. Mohammed Siraj
11. Mohammed Shami

Australia
1. David Warner
2. Usman Khawaja
3. Marnus Labuschagne
4. Steve Smith (vc)
5. Travis Head
6. Peter Handscomb
7. Alex Carey (wk)
8. Pat Cummins (c)
9. Todd Murphy
10. Nathan Lyon
11. Mitch Swepson