Outside of the Ashes, no Test series generates the level of interest the Border-Gavaskar Trophy does. And with the possible exception of Australia, no country is more difficult to win Test match cricket in than India. 

Adding extra spice to this three four-match series, Australia and India are first and second, respectively, in the ICC World Test Championship. This shapes as a precursor to another showdown in the World Test Championship final at The Oval in London in June.

The bitter rivals resume on-field hostilities in the first Test in Nagpur on Thursday (AEDT), with the subsequent encounters set down for February 17-21 in Delhi, March 1-5 in Dharamsala and March 9-13 in Ahmedabad.

In light of their outstanding recent record against Australia, India are $1.80 favourites to take out the first Test – and just $1.60 to extend their run of Test series wins over the Aussies at home to five.

Australia battles bowling injuries on the back of dominant summer

Australia enjoyed another fruitful Test summer on home soil, toying with West Indies in a 2-0 sweep and cruising to a 2-0 series win over South Africa with only the Sydney whether denying a certain whitewash.

Marnus Labuschagne plundered more than 500 runs in four innings against the battling Windies, while Steve Smith joined him in posting a double-century in the series and Travis Head notched a knock of 175.

Against the rebuilding Proteas, under-pressure opener David Warner was a controversial player of the series after blasting 200 in the Boxing Day Test but not doing much else, while Smith hit another ton and Usman Khawaja scored an unbeaten 195.

But India – and the overseas conditions – present a monumentally bigger challenge than current easybeats West Indies and South Africa did at home for the Pat Cummins-led Aussies.

Further clouding Australia’s chances in a slew of injuries in the seam bowling department. Mitchell Starc is already out of the first Test, Josh Hazlewood is in doubt and all-rounder Cameron Green appears to be only a specialist batting option for the series opener.

Cult hero Scott Boland seems certain to come into the line-up, with yet-to-debut Lance Morris a chance. Green’s injury rules out any chance of a three-spinner arsenal, with uncapped Todd Murphy vying for a debut alongside Nathan Lyon up against Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson. Head provides a part-time off-spin option.

Warner’s patchy form aside, Australia’s settled top order is a big plus. Khawaja – who was magnificent in subcontinental conditions against Pakistan last year – Smith, Labuschagne and Head all boast consistent runs at Test level of late.

Smith ($3.60), Labuschagne ($4.00) and Khawaja ($5.00) are all hard to split as the best Top Australian Series Runscorer option. Nathan Lyon is a prohibitive $1.50 to claim the most wickets for the tourists in the series, with Cummins on the next line of betting at $9.00.

Test drought casts doubt over India

Here’s an eye-watering stat: India has not lost a Test series at home in more than a decade, winning all 15 (!) series since England tipped them up in the 2012/13 summer.

But India are a bit out of practice in the five-day format, playing just five Tests in the past 12 months. They swept Sri Lanka at home in two one-sided matches last March, lost a one-off thriller to England in Birmingham in July and won an away series against relative minnows Bangladesh 2-0 in December.

Cheteshwar Pujara, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer shone with the bat in Bangladesh. The incomparable Virat Kohli’s Test slump continued, but the perennial thorn in Australia’s side will have made the tourists a tad nervous by plundering three ODI centuries since the start of December.

Gill, regarded as Kohli’s heir apparent, has also sizzled across all formats lately. Then there’s captain Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and twin spin wizards Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to worry about. Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav are in a battle for a third spinner’s spot.

India is not without injuries troubles, however. Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah and dynamic keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant – heroes of the team’s last two series wins Down Under – are both out. Their squad replacements, KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan, are yet to play Test cricket.

It’s the prickly Kohli – a hot $3.75 favourite to top India’s run charts in the series – that Australia will be most concerned about, though Pujara ($5.00), Sharma ($5.00), Rahul ($7.25) and Gill ($7.25) are all capable of taking a Test by the scruff of the neck. Ashwin ($2.70), Patel ($3.25) and Jadeja ($3.30) are hard to split in the Top India Series Wicket Taker market.

India dominates heavyweight rivalry

India has unequivocally had the wood on Australia in recent times, winning six of the last eight Test series between the cricketing powerhouses – including the last three straight.

Australian players and fans will still wince at the memories of 2-1 series defeats on home soil in the 2018/19 and 2020/21 summers. The latter was especially devastating: Australia went 1-0 up after famously bowling India out for just 36. But the injury-ravaged tourists fought back with epic against-the-odds wins in the Boxing Day Test and the decider in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, India has bested Australia in all four Test series on home soil since Australia’s last success in 2004/05. The nations most recently met on the subcontinent in 2016, India prevailing 2-1 after Australia won the series opener.

Smith was magnificent in a beaten side, topping the charts with 499 runs at 71.28 including three centuries. Kohli struggled, scraping together a measly 46 runs in five innings. Pujara (405 runs at 57.85) and KL Rahul (393 at 65.50) carried the Indian batting order, however. Jadeja and Ashwin combined for 46 wickets, while Aussie spin twins Lyon and Steve O’Keefe picked up 38 in total.

With 10 wins to Australia’s five with five drawn in the past 20 Tests between the sides overall, it’s hard to argue against India’s $1.80 favouritism heading into Thursday’s series opener.