Australia look to continue winning streaks
The bowling attack looks embarrassingly thin, the opening pair isn't a settled one and the preparation ahead of the first Test has been far from ideal. Yet, the presence of five maestros, all of whom are almost certainly playing their last Test series in Australia, will give the Indian fans hope of achieving the seemingly near-impossible task of winning the Test series.
That, though, might be too lofty a goal: in the last two years, no team has even managed to draw a single game against Australia. The Boxing Day Test in 2005 started a glorious run which has fetched them 14 straight victories, just two short of their own record of 16 which they set under Steve Waugh's captaincy.
The Indians had stopped that run quite spectacularly in Kolkata, and what will give them heart this time too is their record against Australia in the last three series: the series wins are level at one per team, while each side has won four Tests. (Read last week's Numbers Game column for details on all teams' performance versus Australia since 2000.)
|Tests||Aus win||Ind win||Draws/ Tie|
|In Australia||32||20||4||8/ 0|
|Last three series||11||4||4||3|
Bowling has traditionally been a weak link for India, and the Australian batsmen have generally enjoyed plenty of success against them. The one exception to the rule is Adam Gilchrist, who averages less than 30 against them; against no other side does he average less than 42.
|Matthew Hayden||11||1244||62.20||3/ 6|
|Michael Clarke||4||400||57.14||1/ 2|
|Ricky Ponting||15||1253||52.20||4/ 4|
|Adam Gilchrist||14||659||29.95||2/ 2|
In 24 innings against them, he has just four fifty-plus scores, while 11 times he has fallen for less than ten.
If his past track record against India is any indicator, though, Gilchrist has a fair chance of scoring runs in the Boxing Day Test - he tends to start a series well against India, but the numbers fade away dramatically as the series wears on.
|1st Tests||4||295||49.16||2/ 0|
|2nd Tests||4||257||32.12||0/ 2|
|3rd Tests||4||66||16.50||0/ 0|
|4th Tests||2||41||10.25||0/ 0|
Overseas batsmen have often struggled in Australia, but the Indian top order has impressive numbers there, with four batsmen averaging more than 50. Rahul Dravid had a poor series in 1999-2000, but more than made up for it with some exceptional knocks on the next tour, in 2003-04. VVS Laxman made his mark in both series, while Sachin Tendulkar has had memorable knocks in each of his three tours, starting with sublime knocks in Perth and Sydney in 1991-92. Sourav Ganguly's century at the Gabba on the previous tour was the knock which kickstarted the batting line-up, while Virender Sehwag's scintillating 195 in Melbourne is probably a huge reason why he finds himself in the squad this time.
|Rahul Dravid||7||712||64.72||1/ 3|
|VVS Laxman||7||715||59.58||3/ 1|
|Virender Sehwag||4||464||58.00||1/ 1|
|Sachin Tendulkar||12||1029||54.15||4/ 3|
|Sourav Ganguly||7||461||38.41||1/ 2|
The Indian bowling wears a far thinner look, though. Anil Kumble had an excellent tour in 2003-04, but his overall average in Australia is 40, while Zaheer Khan only managed five wickets in his two Tests here. Harbhajan Singh averages 24.17 against Australia, with a fantastic haul of 54 wickets from eight Tests, but 53 of those scalps were in India. In his only Test in Australia - in Brisbane in 2003-04 - he finished with match figures of 1 for 169.
The Australian attack will be led by Brett Lee, who has a modest record against India - 21 wickets at an average of 31.42 - but he has improved considerably since he last played against them.
As if the 14-match winning streak isn't enough, Australia will look to further another run of wins when the Boxing Day Test gets underway - they have won eight successive times at the MCG, which is second in the all-time list of consecutive Test wins at a venue, next only to the 12 that West Indies put together in Bridgetown, Barbados, during a 15-year stretch from 1978 to 1993. (Read The List for more details.)
Going by all the pre-match talk, the pitch is likely to be a good one for batting, but past record here suggests there will be a decisive result: the last draw at the ground was ten years back, when South Africa took on the hosts. In the last 19 Tests at the MCG, only two have been drawn.
S Rajesh is stats editor at Cricinfo