Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide January 23, 2008

Adelaide calm sets up storming finish



Can he sign off in style: Sachin Tendulkar has scored just 122 runs in six Test innings at the Adelaide Oval © Getty Images
 
So beautiful is the Adelaide Oval that you feel like forgetting this state of series, the quiet tension enveloping the ground and the sheer anticipation of one of the most important Tests in recent times. Sitting on the grassy banks, under the shade of the cathedral, it's easy to forget what's at stake. The spirit of the game can be expected to stay intact; the air is too peaceful for squabbles.

It's been two-and-a-half years since a final Test involving Australia meant something. It's bound to produce that butterfly-in-the-stomach sensation. You can hear it in the captains' voices, see it in the players' faces and feel it in the conversations. It's important enough for Ricky Ponting to, uncharacteristically, not reveal the final XI and for Anil Kumble not to provide even a hint. The dry heat is only making the situation more taut.

India's combination is a tricky one. It's almost certain that Wasim Jaffer will sit out, meaning either Harbhajan Singh or Dinesh Karthik will get a game. Unlike Jaffer, both spent plenty of time at the nets on match eve. The bold move would be to play five bowlers but Karthik's expertise at the top would allow the side to not ruffle the middle order. Five bowlers would mean either Rahul Dravid or Irfan Pathan will move up to open. Considering Kumble's positive moves through the series, it wouldn't be out of place to imagine him picking five bowlers to go for the win. It's India who are chasing the series.

Australia's batsmen, swung out at Perth, get a chance to feast on a hard, true pitch. Matthew Hayden is back and Phil Jaques is due. Ricky Ponting, out of sorts so far, will look back on his 142 last year, an innings that helped set up a most improbable victory against England. Back in 1992, Ponting insisted he stay back in the academy rather than go home, simply to watch Sachin Tendulkar practise. Now he's up against him, in the same arena.

The toss up for the final slot will be between Brad Hogg, the chinaman bowler who was left out of Perth because Australia "misread the conditions", and Shaun Tait, the local lad who was insipid last week. Hogg didn't do that well in Sydney, despite conditions favouring him, but he could still be preferred for the value he adds with the bat and on the field.

Considering the amount at stake for India, the selection of the one-day squad couldn't have been more ill-timed. But it's time they put it behind them and look at the challenge on hand. It was fitting that Sourav Ganguly led India's huddle on the day before their most important Test in recent times. Standing in the centre, he addressed the close-knit group for about two minutes. He was captain when India were here last and, despite the recent murmurs about his one-day exclusion, would have known best how to spur his team-mates on.

India are the only visiting team to win here in the last 12 years. There has been just one draw in that period, though batsmen tend to dominate first innings. It's one of the few grounds in Australia where Tendulkar is yet to leave an imprint. He hasn't gone past 61 in six innings, strange considering the batsman-friendly nature of the ground. He's received a tremendous response across all grounds and you can be assured of the grand reception his entry will prompt. Brian Lara's final Test in Australia was at the same ground - he cracked an imperious 226 in that match - and Tendulkar could end with a similar flourish. This is Don Bradman's territory after all.

Nobody is even considering the possibility, but Australia will be the happier side if the game ends in a draw. Rain is forecast for the first two days and a good batting pitch could well push the game towards a stalemate. Beating Australia for two Tests on the trot is a daunting task but India, who remain the only team to have surmounted the challenge in this decade (in 2001), know what it entails.

Australia (likely) 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Phil Jaques, 2 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Stuart Clark.

India (likely) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Rahul Dravid, 3 VVS Laxman, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 Irfan Pathan, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 RP Singh, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo