India's quicks' fitness key to series - Warne
Shane Warne believes India's chances in the upcoming Test series in Australia will hinge on the fitness of fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. Both men have had ankle problems in recent times and Warne believes a lack of depth in India's attack could be exposed if Ishant and Zaheer are not at full fitness for the series, which begins at the MCG on December 26.
Ishant was bothered by a dodgy ankle during the first of the two tour games in Canberra last week, and he bowled only four overs in the second match, on the final day. Zaheer is coming back from surgery on his ankle; he did not play in the first match and then sent down 15 overs in the second game. Neither man has yet taken a wicket on the tour.
"India has a quality team, as they've been showing in recent times," Warne said. "In Test cricket we've seen them, against West Indies, do well. But before that they played England in England and got beaten 4-0 with a swinging ball and a good English seam attack. Their batsmen will do pretty well.
"Their bowlers will have to stay fit. If Zaheer Khan or Ishant Sharma get injured, then I think their bowling attack could be quite weak. The Australian batsmen could perform pretty well. I think it's going to come down to how India are going to take 20 wickets with their bowling.
"I think their batters, especially Rahul Dravid, will make big runs. He's a quality person, he's a quality act, he's a quality player. Hopefully Sachin [Tendulkar] will get his hundredth hundred here. It would be a great time to do it here at the MCG in front of 70 or 80,000."
Warne was speaking outside the MCG at the unveiling of a bronze statue of him in his legspinning stride, the first in a series to be known as the Avenue of Legends. His former captain Mark Taylor was also at the ceremony but, unlike Warne, he was less certain that India's outstanding batting line-up would thrive this summer against an attack led by James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.
"They've been great players," Taylor said. "I'll be interested to see, though, how they'll go against this young Australian bowling line-up, because I don't feel that Sachin, Rahul and VVS [Laxman] are getting tested as often as say Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey have in recent times.
"They have been tested on wickets that have been more bowler-friendly, whereas Sachin and Rahul and VVS play a lot of their cricket in India, where the wickets are generally flatter and don't bounce as much, don't move off the seam. This will be a really good test for them, and a good test for our fast bowlers. I reckon they [Australia's bowlers] are up to it. I think that's going to be one of the highlights of the summer, to see how those ageing batsmen from India go against the young quicks."
Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman are all older than Ponting, who has struggled for form over the past two years and has not made a Test century since January 2010. Taylor endured a similar slump in the later years of his career, but even his longest stretch without a Test hundred was only 24 innings; Ponting's has now ballooned to 31.
"He's probably in a similar boat to where I was, and I think Steve Waugh had the same problem getting towards the end of your career," Taylor said. "It's not that you can't do it anymore. You just need a moment where a lucky break goes your way or you just play a shot where you think, there it is, and Ricky is probably that close. Boxing Day has generally been pretty good to him … hopefully, over the five days here, we'll see the real Ricky Ponting."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo