Preview: Australia vs India, 1st Test

December 25, 2011

There’s nothing quite like India-Australia to get the Test cricket adrenaline pumping once again. India-South Africa and Australia-South Africa have had many memorable Tests. India and England should have been a memorable series, South Africa and England too have had nail-biters galore, while Australia and England have the Ashes of course. But from 1998 onwards, when the Tendulkar vs Warne battle took on mythic proportions, no other two teams have delivered as consistently on drama, quality (batting and bowling) and competitiveness than India and Australia.

The Teams:

Both teams face a selection dilemma of sorts, and though educated guesses can be made at the final eleven for both, there’s scope for a left-field pick or two. India’s top 5 is set in stone with Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. The sixth spot should go to Virat Kohli in all probability, but Rohit Sharma’s natural talent allied with a new found focus and his previous success in ODIs in Australia mean that Kohli’s selection is far from clear-cut. There are merits and demerits to including/excluding both Kohli and Rohit. If fit, the four bowlers should be Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin. The key word is ‘if fit’. The Indian team management has been very close-mouthed about the status of both Zaheer and Ishant injury-wise, and there have been more than a few doubts raised on whether the pair will play, or will last 5 days.

Australia don’t have the mystery fitness worries India do, but their selection dilemma is in a way more fundamental. It is simply that of ‘who to select?’ Of the thirteen players in the squad, the Australians face a dilemma over the combination they wish to go with. Daniel Christian is the all-rounder, but it’s not clear whether including him will improve the balance of the team or not. It’s likely to come down to a final call between Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Christian for the final spot. Picking Christian means strengthening the batting and weakening the bowling, while the opposite is true for the other two. The larger fact, is of course, that Ponting in particular and Hussey to a lesser extent need to get runs. If they do, then a Christian to bolster the batting is not needed and Australia can go in with four proper bowlers.

The History:

The build-up to this series might have been as intense as ever on the field and in the minds of the players, but there’s something missing. It’s almost as if the Australians have been too welcoming to India with none of the familiar needling or the all pervasive white-wash predictions. That is of course due to the fact that a.) Glenn McGrath has retired and b.) Arising from (a), Australia haven’t quite got the fire-power that would make a white-wash threat a legitimate one. There’s little doubt though, that there will be plenty of needle, of drama and of fight once the matches start. It’s India versus Australia after all.

There’s also the matter of both teams recent histories. Until the England tour, India managed to shrug off poor starts and play well for much of their recent history. In the light of England though, a good start is not only important it is critical. For Australia, who have seen their worldwide hegemony break bit by bit, a loss will confirm that they can longer sit with the big boys on a consistent basis in world cricket – at least not for the time being. And the Aussies’ legendary pride in the Baggy Green will mean that is a situation to abhor.

There is the equally weighty matter of India never having won a series in Australia with this being the last chance for Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman to put that right. Two of the golden generation – Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble – have already gone without that particular box ticked.

The Conditions:

The wicket is likely to be a typical MCG wicket – with early life for pacers and runs for the batsmen prepared to wait it out a little (Sehwag is, obviously, an exception to the ‘wait it out’ rule). The worrying bit is that there are thunderstorms forecast for the first day of the Test, but the good news is that the next four days should be relatively rain-free.

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