Showtime at the Gabba
Hayden lies in wait © AFP
Sourav Ganguly certainly isn't expecting any favours from the Australian bowlers when the first Test of the four-match series against Australia gets underway at the Gabba in Brisbane tomorrow.
"I expect to get a few," he said with a smile when asked whether he thought Australia's bowlers would target his perceived vulnerability against the short ball. "We're all prepared for that."
With torrential rain buffeting the area this morning, and further showers predicted over the next few days, the bowling attacks could well hold sway on a 22-yard strip that was tinged with travel-sickness green on the eve of the match.
Steve Waugh, for one, wasn't writing off India's chances. "They have bowlers who can swing the ball," he said, "and you can't say the same about too many teams in international cricket." Whether Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra can pitch it in the right areas against a formidable batting line-up is another matter altogether.
"We've been practising on that," said Ganguly, talking about the ideal length to bowl to the Australian batsmen. "A good ball is a good ball to any batsmen, regardless of whether it's Matthew Hayden facing, or someone else. We need to hit the right areas of the pitch."
Ganguly admitted that the team had performed pretty poorly in the warm-up matches against Victoria and the Queensland Academy of Sport. "It takes time to get used to the new conditions ... on the positive side, most of the batsmen were hitting the ball quite well."
He was also at his diplomatic best when asked whether the series would be special because his side would be the last to test their mettle against Steve Waugh. "It's going to be a special series anyway," he said. "We're the only team to have beaten Australia in the past five years ... I have a lot of respect for him [Waugh]. He's taken them to another level in his years in charge, and I'm sure Australian cricket will miss him when he leaves."
Waugh admitted relief that the speculation was finally over. "Everyone knows what the deal is now, and we can just get on with things," he said in typically acerbic fashion. Both captains will also get on with the toss in the time-honoured fashion this time, with none of the gamesmanship that plagued the last series between these sides. "Captains have to set the right example when it comes to the way Test cricket is played," said Waugh, suggesting that both men will walk to the middle together tomorrow morning.
Australia go into the game without Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, but Waugh was emphatic that the resources he had - Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken to back up Jason Gillespie and Andrew Bichel - would be enough to "knock the Indians over". Even with grey clouds still dominating the horizon, Stuart MacGill will get a look in.
India's selection dilemma centres around the spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. Only one will play, and Harbhajan - hero of the 2001 triumph, and one of the individuals mentioned by Waugh as posing a special threat - should be the one. Ajit Agarkar, the only Indian pace bowler with previous experience of Australian pitches, should also start, with neither Irfan Pathan nor L Balaji having scythed through the opposition in the tour games.
Sadagoppan Ramesh should open the batting with Virender Sehwag, having been one of the few batsmen to strike any sort of rhythm so far on this tour. Ganguly and Wright also have 24 hours to sort out a batting order. VVS Laxman played his best innings against Australia at No. 3, and there's a good chance that he'll be asked to do so again, with Rahul Dravid moving down the order to lend extra solidity in the event of the openers failing again.
The focus of most Australian eyes tomorrow will be Sachin Tendulkar, 12 years on from the tour that established him as one of the brightest stars in cricket's alltime firmament. "Special players like him have a way of working around whatever plans you make," said Waugh. It'll take some truly special work from Tendulkar if India aren't to leave the Gabba with a fifth successive defeat. Tendulkar and rain - in that order - offer India the biggest hope, on a pitch where the bowlers should be into the swing of things from ball one.
Australia (probable): 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Justin Langer, 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Steve Waugh (capt), 6 Simon Katich, 7 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 8 Andy Bichel, 9 Jason Gillespie, 10 Brad Williams, 11 Stuart MacGill.
India (probable): 1 Sadagoppan Ramesh, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 VVS Laxman, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Rahul Dravid, 6 Sourav Ganguly (capt), 7 Ajit Agarkar, 8 Parthiv Patel (wk), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Dileep Premachandran, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following India throughout their Test tour of Australia.