Bangalore: India versus Australia in Test cricket. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, if recent history is an indication. Come Thursday, and it will be pressure-time again. Can India reverse its losing sequence against the Aussies in the Garden City?
The first match of the four-Test series begins at the Chinnaswamy Stadium amid expectations and hope. Skippers Anil Kumble and Ricky Ponting will look for chinks that could open the sluice gates. The series will be as much a test of mind as skill.
Both captains will also keep an eye on the behavioral front; both realise the consequences. The announcement of Sourav Ganguly’s retirement took the attention away, even if briefly, from a Test series of such significance. Senior Indian batsmen, hurt and disappointed over some of the media reports, are keen to prove a point. They appeared fresh and hungry at the nets.
Australia had a fitness worry ahead of the match, with key batsman Michael Clarke missing practice on Tuesday due to a stomach disorder. The visitor will need the fleet-footed Clarke, a fine player of spin, in the line-up. A revamped pitch
The surface has a revamped top and it remains to be seen how the pitch holds. As the contest unfolds, spinners could assume centre-stage. Batting first is the likely option. Spells of rain over the past week here could be a deterrent if the idea is to prepare a spinning track. The surface needs to be dry for the wicket to break or for the cracks to develop; long periods of stinging sunshine are mandatory.
India is likely to field two pacemen and two spinners. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma form an interesting left-right bowling combination. There is variety in the attack with Kumble teaming up with old partner Harbhajan Singh in an leg-spin-off-spin partnership. Apart from his ability to seam the ball both ways or straighten it, Zaheer will create footmarks for trump-card Harbhajan to exploit.
Zaheer is crafty rather than explosive these days. Ishant’s natural incoming delivery to the right-hander provides India its best chance to consume the left-handed and hugely influential Matthew Hayden early on. The big-built Queenslander can be vulnerable to deliveries leaving him from the off-stump initially. Ishant may have to switch to round-the-wicket to employ such a tactic.
Brett Lee versus Virender Sehwag will be another duel within a contest — Sehwag’s bludgeoning blade against Lee’s speed and thrust. Sehwag’s impact could be immense for he can leave phychological scars on the attack.
Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson will partner Lee in the attack. Clark is a wily customer who can build pressure by strangulation or strike with his bounce and cut from an off-stump line. Yet, he is no Glenn McGrath.
Johnson is a slinging swinger with promise and pace but needs consistency. Considering that the Australian spin bowling is toothless — likely debutant Cameron White is making more news for his powerful batting than leg-spin these days — much of Australia’s chances could depend on breakthroughs with the new ball and how the pacemen reverse the older sphere. Watson lends balance
The Aussie pacemen require to bowl a fuller length in the sub-continental conditions. It is here that all-rounder Shane Watson — he has recovered well from a sore throat — lends valuable balance to the Australian side. Watson’s hustling pace bowling — he can extract bounce and bend the older ball back — can be extremely handy.
While Australia will miss the footwork and aggression of Andrew Symonds against the spinners, the big-hitting Watson and White will add depth to the line-up.
The bounce has tended to be uneven in the latter stages of Tests here lately and Harbhajan Singh and Kumble would wait in anticipation. Harbhajan still holds the mental edge over Ponting. The off-spinner’s duel with Michael Hussey could dictate the course of the Test too.
This will be a many-layered series.
6 months ago