Adelaide: Former Australian cricketer and ex-Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson, in an exclusive interview with MyNation, talks about the Australia-India Test series, how to stop Virat Kohli and playing hard but fair cricket.

MyNation: India arrived here with some labelling them as favourites. Australia are in a rebuilding phase. Does that make this series even more intriguing? 

Geoff Lawson: It certainly is intriguing. India may not be the favourites, because they have a poor record in Australia, but they are certainly not the underdogs. Their fast bowling is pretty good and that is basically how you win Tests in this country. They have good depth in their pace department, if someone gets injured. So, that’s a big plus for them and they have a couple of batsmen who can bat on hard, bouncy wickets. 

India's biggest problem would be facing the Australian bowling. The hosts don’t have Steve Smith and David Warner, so their batting is a bit in disorder. Good Indian bowling plus not so good Australian batting, that’s India’s biggest chance to win the series. I think both sides are equal, but this is India’s best chance in a long time.

Also read: India-Australia series schedule

MN: Indian batting hasn’t done well in South Africa and England this year, and is too dependent on Virat Kohli. Is that a weakness to be exploited? 

Lawson: I was very impressed with Kohli four years ago as he picked up the challenge on hard and bouncy wickets. He used both front and back foot, which is his biggest plus. A lot of Indian batsmen use only their front foot. He will make runs and Australia’s challenge will be to keep him to average around 50. 

Then, there is a big chance (of Australian win) because the others didn’t do well in South Africa or England. The challenge is for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to play long innings. Rohit Sharma will play. They have to play long innings. Can they do it against the Australian attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, our greatest off-spinner who enjoys playing against India?

MN: Hardik Pandya is missing for India. They will play with seven batsmen in Adelaide. How important is to get team selection right here in Australia? 

Lawson: It depends on how badly they want to win. Are they ready to play R Ashwin at number seven, and pick another bowler, maybe a second spinner at Adelaide? Rishabh Pant batted at six in England so that can be done again. It depends on whether Kohli can play five bowlers and the wicketkeeper bats well. Cricket is a great balancing act. Australia usually play four bowlers – three pacers and one spinner. Should India do that? Probably not! India have a lot of choice in pace bowling, so they have to be clever about using their five pacers across four Tests, and not just the first Test. 

MN: For Australia, who do you think can put their hand up in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner? 

Lawson: You are missing two of the best batsmen in the world. It is not easy to replace them obviously. Usman Khawaja is a key player. He was batting very well before he hurt his knee. He is back fit and looking good. I have a feeling that he is the main batsman for India to get out. He plays both spin and pace well, and can play off his back foot, and is good on harder wickets. But of course, like any other game, the openers will have to do their jobs with the new ball. So Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris (debutant) have a huge challenge, which is a bit unpredictable for Australia at the moment. 

MN: How do you think Australia will stop Virat Kohli? 

Lawson: Look, Australia have got a very good bowling line-up. Their fast bowlers are excellent and probably among the best in world cricket. They have the capability of getting him out. However, it is necessary if Kohli gives you a chance, Australia have to take it. He is not infallible; he is just very good. You cannot afford to drop Kohli somewhere, because he will not give you too many opportunities. He is a great batsman and when you play against him, you accept that he will score runs. But you have to work and restrict him to a decent number. If he averages 50 in this series, and Australia get rest of the Indian batsmen fairly cheaply, they will win the series.

MN: And finally, this whole definition of playing the game in the right spirit, how do you think Australia will play, or behave, in this series? 

Lawson: The way Tim Paine has been leading is quite sensible. You just have to concentrate on your skills – you have to bat better, field better and bowl better than the opposition. Your verbal skills just don’t matter. Paine has done a pretty good job of it so far and they are playing the game in the right manner. They have been playing hard, and that doesn’t mean playing hard with your mouth. It has never ever meant that. Playing hard is about playing to win, as hard as you can, and in the right spirit. I don’t think that will change under Paine’s leadership.