With Australia's training camp in Dubai complete, we assess where each player is at as they head to India for Friday's practice match in Mumbai before the four-Test series begins in Pune on February 23.
Steve Smith: Given the all-clear to begin training in Dubai after an ankle ligament injury forced him to sit out the ODI tour of New Zealand, Smith has set to work hitting balls, and hitting balls, and hitting balls. The Australia captain has three hundreds in his past nine hits across all formats and this summer continued the stunning form that has seen him plant himself at No.1 on the ICC Test batting rankings. A century in Colombo last August in the third Test against Sri Lanka was his first in Asia and a promising sign ahead of this Indian assignment that looms as his greatest challenge yet.
David Warner: Warner sat out the ODI tour of NZ in order to rest ahead of India, but the left-hander doesn't really do sitting still; instead of feet up, it was head down on the training paddock with his sprint coach as he looked to sharpen his fitness before flying out to Dubai. He made 0 and 26 in the intra-squad hit-out but, like Smith, is coming off another run-spree of a summer. Interestingly, 17 of Warner's 18 Test hundreds have come in Australia or South Africa, with the other coming against Pakistan in the UAE. Big runs in India, like Matthew Hayden before him, would be massive in the context of the series.
Ashton Agar: Agar was a left-field choice for India to some degree but the spin-bowling allrounder is an attractive package; he turns the ball away from the right-hander with his left-arm orthodox tweakers and, on his day, strikes the ball decisively. And he performed both roles splendidly as one of the standout players in the Dubai-based practice match last week, taking 4-41 (12.3) and making 74 retired to give himself every chance of selection. In four Sheffield Shield matches this summer, he's taken 16 wickets at 27 but hasn't passed 35 with the bat, after a breakout season last year in which he made a pair of hundreds.
Jackson Bird: Bird hasn't played a first-class match since the Boxing Day Test, with the Tassie quick's cricket diet since then made up of five KFC Big Bash League games with the Sydney Sixers for just one wicket, and the intra-squad hit-out in Dubai. The 30-year-old had the prized wicket of Warner edging behind for a duck in the first innings of that practice game, and finished with a breezy 41 to show he's also improved his batting. As the third member of the pace attack, the right-armer again runs the risk of missing the series due to what are likely to be spin-friendly conditions, though recent history suggests the Australians should consider sticking to their regular pace triumvirate.
Peter Handscomb: After a dream home summer that finished with his Test average just 0.19 of a run away from Bradman's, Handscomb had a tougher time of things in the Chappell-Hadlee ODI series in New Zealand, making scores of 7 and 0 and being thrown the gloves at the eleventh hour in the opening match when Matt Wade pulled out with a back injury. The 25-year-old had a tough time behind the stumps in that opener but has worked with Brad Haddin to freshen his skills in the week that followed, and impressed in the series decider with some neat work. He took the gloves again in Dubai to cement himself as a well-credentialed back-up to Wade, but Handscomb – who made two ducks and 91 in an Australia A series in India in 2015 – will be focused largely on runs.
Josh Hazlewood: Now the world's top-ranked fast bowler in Test cricket, Hazlewood comes into the India series with another long summer under his belt, capped off by plenty of overs against his teammates in their Dubai hit-out. The New South Welshman is no fan of resting or rotation and feels at his best with a considerable workload under his belt, which he's had thanks to six Tests and nine ODIs in the past three months. The 26-year-old took seven wickets at 32.7 in three Tests in Sri Lanka last year – a return Australia will need him to improve on if they're to prosper against the might of the Indians.
Usman Khawaja: It was another bountiful summer for Khawaja, who erased the nightmares of Sri Lanka with half-centuries in all six home Tests and a match-winning 145 against the Proteas in Adelaide. The left-hander then played three ODIs against Pakistan with a best of 30 before being put on ice for India. He'll be well aware the he's batted seven times in Tests in Asia for a highest score of 26, and given the 'horses for courses' that Darren Lehmann forecast may be applied to batsmen on subcontinental tours, he will be desperate to impress in Friday's practice match in Mumbai to keep the likes of Shaun Marsh from taking his No.3 spot.
Nathan Lyon: The most capped member of this Test squad, Lyon produced a couple of high-quality spells at vital times to help Australia to victories in Adelaide and Melbourne over the summer. Five games for the Sydney Sixers followed, including a match-winning spell in the semi-final, as Lyon again pressed his claims for a spot in Australia's limited-overs teams. All that aside however, the off-spinner is another whose record in Asia will come under the microscope if the tourists struggle to take wickets. Last year against Sri Lanka, that was the case during the second Test when coach Darren Lehmann remarked: "Nathan Lyon’s experience has been very good for us over a period of time, but his record in the subcontinent is not great. So he’s got to improve, there’s no doubt about that." Lyon took seven wickets in the third Test and said after the tour he felt he'd learned a considerable amount about the art of spin bowling on the subcontinent.
Mitchell Marsh: Marsh was dumped from the Test team following the series opener against the Proteas and then succumbed to a right shoulder problem at the back-end of the ODI series against Pakistan, completing a disappointing summer for the WA allrounder. His selection for India however, puts him very much back in the frame for the No.6 position, with Ashton Agar and Glenn Maxwell also targeting the vacant spot. The right-hander found form with the bat during the BBL with the Perth Scorchers, and carried it on with a half-century in the intra-squad hit-out in Dubai – a practice match in which he also took the new ball. Interestingly, Marsh's two Test fifties have come in Asia – he made 87 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in just his second Test in 2014, and 53 against Sri Lanka in Colombo last August.
Shaun Marsh: Marsh smoked a pair of fifties at the back-end of the BBL to help the Scorchers into the final then made a delightful 22 before being run-out in Australia's ODI decider against the Black Caps in Hamilton. In Dubai, he made a fine 62 against his national teammates to confirm one fact; the left-hander is a man in form. Where he fits into Smith's XI remains unknown but, with two hundreds and a fifty from three Tests in Asia, it's unlikely he'll be left out.
Glenn Maxwell: Maxwell returned to Australia's ODI set-up in impressive fashion over the summer, hitting two half-centuries from his first three innings. He missed out in New Zealand, scoring 20 and 0, while his off-spin was not used by captain Steve Smith or Aaron Finch in either series, despite his selection on this Test tour as an allrounder. The right-hander is aiming to add to his three Tests – all played in Asia – but doesn't have a first-class century to his name since August 2015. His brief stay at the crease in the first innings of the Dubai hit-out came to an end when he was stumped from the bowling of Steve O'Keefe, while he made 21 second time around. He also bowled Mitch Marsh with his off-spinners to give the selectors more food for thought regarding a possible recall to the Test XI.
Steve O'Keefe: O'Keefe has had injury strike him down at all the wrong times in recent years so he took no chances ahead of India, opting out of the Big Bash to focus on red-ball cricket. The left-arm spinner took nine wickets in a hit-out for NSW Under-23s late last month – his first match since the Sydney Test, in which he claimed four wickets – before boarding the plane for Dubai. Against his teammates in the practice match, he removed Maxwell and Hazlewood, and made 0 and 30 with the bat. The 32-year-old's 14 wickets in two Australia A matches against India A in India in August 2015 will only add to his strong case for selection for the series opener.
Matthew Renshaw: Renshaw has only played once since his monumental effort in the New Year's Test in Sydney, in which he made 184 to complete his rapid ascension to the top of the sport. That was a Queensland Under-23s fixture, in which he made 3 and 12. The tall left-hander has spoken to Test great Matthew Hayden, and plans to emulate his subcontinental game plan of employing the sweep shot regularly. Despite his impressive start to Test cricket (he's averaging 63 from four matches), the likes of Steve Waugh have suggested that he could lose his place to the fit-again Shaun Marsh, whose record in Asia is outstanding.
Mitchell Starc: The numbers for the summer make for pleasant reading – 28 wickets in six Tests, 19 in nine ODIs – but Starc set the bar so high in Sri Lanka last year that people are expecting more. In India, he'll have similar subcontinental conditions in which to try to emulate those feats (a record-breaking 24 wickets at 15.16 in three Tests) and Australia will need him to do exactly that. Like Hazlewood, Starc got through plenty of overs against his teammates in Dubai and has been set for this India series.
Mitchell Swepson: The bolter of the tour group, young Queenslander Swepson is a leg-spinner who shot to prominence in the 2015-16 edition of the Big Bash with a couple of wickets on debut. Shane Warne has barely stopped tweeting since about the kid who 'gives it a rip' and Swepson has impressed in both Shield cricket and for Australia A in the intervening period. The 23-year-old is far from the finished product, and one senses he's on this tour more for experience than action, but 41 first-class wickets at 32.82 are respectable numbers for a wrist-spinner still learning his craft. In the hit-or-miss world of the BBL, he was a regular wicket-taker and conceded 30-plus runs from his four overs on just two of nine occasions.
Matthew Wade: Wade was adamant that his back issue wouldn't affect his preparation in Dubai and the 'keeper-batsman was rested from the intra-squad practice match and hasn't played since suffering the injury in New Zealand a fortnight ago, but is on track for this week's match in Mumbai. The 29-year-old made a maiden ODI hundred against Pakistan and was set to captain his country across the Tasman until back spasms ultimately saw him fly home from the Chappell-Hadlee series without any game time. The left-hander hasn't reached 30 in five Test innings since his recall to the side and with Peter Nevill posting century after century in the Shield, he'll be eager for a career-defining set of performances in India – both in front of, and behind the stumps.
Possible Australia XI for first Test: David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Mitch Marsh, Matthew Wade, Steve O'Keefe, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Australia in India: Playing schedule
Feb 17: Practice match in Mumbai
Feb 23: First Test, Pune
March 4: Second Test, Bangalore
March 16: Third Test, Ranchi
March 25: Fourth Test, Dharamshala