Friday, October 1, 2010

India, Oz all set for big test

When Australia arrived here in 2008, they were not just planning to keep possession of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, they were talking of putting daylight between themselves and the rest of the Test-playing community. They, however, departed four Tests later with a 0-2 loss and an unnerving knowledge that their dominance of Test cricket was as good as done.

It’s ironical that India’s two-match Test series against Australia this time — the first of which begins here from Friday — throws up the opposite scenario. After a bumper 2009 that saw them reach number one in the Test ranking, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men have had a mixed year so far that is threatening to cut short their stint at the top.

India haven’t lost a series at home in two years, but with draws in the last two, Dhoni has a lot on his platter. There is unpredictability over India’s bowling resources with both Zaheer Khan and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth returning from injury, and Ishant Sharma on the rebound after a woeful season.

No decision has also been taken on Harbhajan Singh, who is suffering from an ankle sprain. “It is a bit of a concern, but you can’t control injuries. We’re just hoping he’ll be available for selection, but if he’s not we’ll have to make use of the available resources in the best possible manner,” Dhoni said. “He has been our main spinner since Anil Kumble left cricket (in 2008). He has been well-supported by Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha, but the main attack has always revolved around him.”

Harbhajan’s absence will be a big blow to India’s aspirations of putting it past Australia as he has been hugely successful against them. In case he doesn’t make it, India will be forced to decide between either another pace option in Sreesanth, or Mishra. Sreesanth is as aggressive as Harbhajan, but has been underwhelming as far as his performance is concerned. Mishra, in contrast, has had a reasonably good season, but lacks the ability to get under the batsman’s skin.

Whatever the final combination, India know where their strength lies — in batting. A slimline Virender Sehwag has been oozing confidence both in words and at nets every since the Indians came here. His opening partner Gautam Gambhir has also had a proper pre-season rest.

India’s start to the new season leading up to the World Cup could well depend on how damaging they prove to be in these two Tests. A nice, solid platform from them will be just the thing the old warhorses in the middle-order would need to settle in.

The Teams

India (from): Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Vangipurappu Venkatsai Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay.
Australia (from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke, Doug Bollinger, Peter George, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Marcus North, Tim Paine, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson.


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