Hosts eager to seal series
Friday, January 13, WACA
Start time 1030 (0230 GMT)
Once again, Australia arrive in Perth with a 2-0 series lead over India. This time, however, the circumstances are mightily different from those that faced the combatants in 2008. Then the dust was settling from Monkeygate, now the only dust is that of India's fragile batting, which has folded all too easily in four innings so far. Australia's 2008 team were also agitated and distracted by the Harbhajan Singh/Andrew Symonds case, and senior players spent as much time deliberating over that issue as they did worrying about how to defeat India at the WACA. This time Michael Clarke's team is happier, more settled and certainly better focussed on the task of sealing the series. India seem to be lacking the spark that they had entering the '08 match, fuelled as it was by their defence of Harbhajan, who has not made this tour.
The hosts, of course, are not entirely without problems. The inexperienced top order was brushed aside by Zaheer Khan in Sydney, and will need to fight for traction in Perth, while the spinner Nathan Lyon will want to be more impactful than he had been in Melbourne and Sydney. That is, if he is chosen - a well-grassed surface is tempting Clarke and the selectors to consider including Mitchell Starc as well as Ryan Harris for the Test, as a four-man pace attack provided Australia with their only win of last summer's horrid Ashes campaign.
India, meanwhile, have happy memories of the victory in '08, but appear far less galvanised than four summers ago. Ishant Sharma returns to the place where he first made his name, twice dismissing Ricky Ponting in that match, the second time at the end of a spell remembered by all who saw it. So far on this tour he has bowled better than his figures suggest, and may need to bowl a fraction fuller on the bouncy WACA deck to gain the wickets his team needs from him. Among the batsmen, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are under particular pressure to offer decent support for Sachin Tendulkar, who has looked in fine touch so far, even as he is continually dogged by the barrier of 100 international centuries.
Australia: WWLWW (most recent first)
Players to watch ...
Ryan Harris is at once Australia's most capable pace bowler and also the team's most tenuous. His battered body succumbed to a hamstring problem in Sri Lanka then a hip ailment in South Africa, cancelling him out of the Test plans for the remainder of 2011 as the team performance manager Pat Howard decreed that Harris had to get fit enough to bowl for five days on the run. To that end he has been eased back into the squad, training in Melbourne, carrying out the duties of 12th man in Sydney and now into the team in Perth where his nine wickets helped bring England briefly to heel last summer. In the absence of the injured James Pattinson, Harris' speed and swing will ask the most impertinent questions of India's batsmen - provided he can stay physically sound.
Depending on what you read, Virender Sehwag is either the reason India's tour is going badly, or the best man to pull his team-mates out of their current slumber. His fearless approach to batting has so far looked chancy in Australia, resulting in one Melbourne innings that was exciting but edgy and three cheap dismissals thereafter. Sehwag has battled to find his best batting rhythm against a concerted attack on his off stump, and can expect more of the same in Perth. However the WACA ground is a place where free-spirited openers can score with tremendous speed once they get going - see Roy Fredericks' effort in 1975-76 for ultimate proof - and Sehwag is well and truly due for a major score.
The only conundrum for Australia is whether to play the spin of Nathan Lyon or the pace and swing of Mitchell Starc. Though he battled for consistency in his first two Tests against New Zealand, Starc has shown the benefits of time spent with Wasim Akram this week, bending the ball late on a full length, with his high-arm action affording plenty of bounce. Lyon, though, is the sort of spin bowler who may benefit from the WACA's bounce and breeze.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Ed Cowan, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Nathan Lyon/Mitchell Starc.
Virat Kohli and VVS Laxman are expected to hold their spots ahead of Rohit Sharma, while Vinay Kumar's fast medium may be considered if India decide on an all-pace attack.
India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman 6 Virat Kohli, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 R Ashwin/Vinay Kumar, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav.
Pitch and conditions
India took some getting used to how green the WACA pitch appeared when they first arrived in Perth, but the January heat should allow it to dry out sufficiently to provide a fair Test surface. Close observation has revealed the grass to be of finer consistency than last year's, which may mean less seam movement than was gained during the Ashes match. Either way, there should be plenty of pace and bounce on offer.
Stats and trivia
- Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are the only current members of the Australian team to have taken part in the 2008 Perth Test
- By contrast, India have retained Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma
- Tendulkar returns to the scene of one of his most celebrated centuries - 114 against Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Mike Whitney and Paul Reiffel on a speedy pitch in 1992
- A win or a draw would return the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to Australian hands for the first time since 2008
"Everyone who comes and watches cricket in Perth wants to see batsmen ducking and weaving out of the way of short balls, batsmen getting great benefit for their shots down the ground, lots of square-of-the-wicket shots being played. If we get a fast, bouncy one [surface] this week, then I'm sure with the batting talent on display you'll see a lot of great highlights throughout."
Ricky Ponting is gleeful about the prospect of a pacy pitch
"It's always nice to come and play in these conditions. It's like an Australian team coming and playing on a rank turner in India, and winning a Test match. We would like to do the same thing again."
Rahul Dravid summons the spirit of '08
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo