India's batsmen hope for SCG magic
Tuesday, January 3
Start time 1030 (2330 GMT)
Australia. India. The SCG. Four years ago, those three elements together sparked one of the most controversial Tests in recent history. It was a match of umpiring blunders, a racism allegation, excessive appealing and ugly behaviour all round. Fortunately for the integrity of this upcoming contest, several of the key protagonists are gone. Andrew Symonds has retired. Harbhajan Singh is no longer considered one of India's two best spinners. Both of the umpires, who struggled to maintain control on the field, have stepped down from international cricket.
It was also a Test that went down to the wire, finishing late on the fifth day, as the shadows grew longer over the Sydney Cricket Ground. The fans will hope for a similarly tight finale this time around, albeit without the argy-bargy and ill feeling between the two teams. A memorable contest would be fitting, for this is the 100th Test to be played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground. Only Lord's and the MCG have hosted more Tests.
This time, the teams head to Sydney with Australia 1-0 up in the series, having won inside four days in Melbourne. India's batsmen were the major disappointment in the Boxing Day Test. Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar all made 60s or 70s in the first innings but in the second, Tendulkar's 32 was the best score. Chasing 292, that was vastly inadequate. Australia's strong and consistent pace attack built pressure and the Indians could not show the skills that had earned them more than 53,000 Test runs collectively over their Test careers.
There is more of a chance of India's batsmen enjoying the SCG. Sachin Tendulkar's Test record at the venue makes for imposing reading. In four Sydney Tests, he has made 148*, 45, 4, 241*, 60*, 154* and 12. VVS Laxman's Sydney efforts have been just as impressive: 7, 167, 178, 109, 20. But they and their colleagues will need to show significant improvements after last week if they are to level the series.
Form guide (most recent first)
Players to watch out for...
This time last year, Nathan Lyon had not played for his state in any format. Now he is a veteran of eight Tests. In a year full of impressive debuts by Australian cricketers, his is the most remarkable story. The Adelaide Oval groundsman who was asked by the state coach to bowl in the nets, Lyon has shown every club cricketer that there is hope. All you need is an opportunity. He wasn't a key part of the attack in Melbourne, where the fast men dominated, but at the SCG, particularly later in the Test, he could be asked to bowl a lot of overs of offspin. Incredibly, Lyon has not played a first-class match at the SCG, traditionally the best venue for spin in Australia.
To watch Sachin Tendulkar upper-cut Peter Siddle over the head of the slips for six off the first ball after tea on the second day at the MCG was a sight to behold. Tendulkar played brilliantly in that innings and it was impossible not to anticipate his hundredth international hundred. Siddle ended that dream in the last over of the day by bowling Tendulkar for 73. It would perhaps be even more fitting if Tendulkar were able to reach his milestone in the 100th Sydney Test. He is the master of the SCG, and the only grounds around the world where he has a higher Test average are in Bangladesh.
Australia included Ryan Harris in the 12-man squad at the expense of Daniel Christian and Mitchell Starc, neither of whom made the starting line-up in Melbourne. However, the selectors chose to use the same XI as at the MCG, with Harris more likely for the third Test in Perth, where Australia might consider a four-man pace attack.
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 James Pattinson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
India's batting was a problem in Melbourne, so they might consider including Rohit Sharma at the expense of Virat Kohli. Should Rohit play it will be his Test debut but he will bring plenty of international experience - he has played 72 ODIs and 22 Twenty20s for India.
India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Virat Kohli / Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav.
Pitch and conditions
The SCG pitch has traditionally not bounced as much as other Australian surfaces, perhaps one of the reasons it has been appreciated by India's batsmen. But that character has changed, and the curator Tom Parker expects a similar pitch to that on which England's swing and seam bowlers set up an innings victory last summer. It is worth noting, though, that in that Test England's batsmen scored 644.
"In the last few years I think the Sydney pitch has changed texture from when it used to be a real dust bowl and really helped the spinners," Michael Hussey said on Sunday. "The last few years it has been really seamer friendly and particularly tough for batting, especially early in the match. It definitely looks a lighter colour. Generally that's the way it has gone over the years, it has slowed down a little bit and helped the spinners."
The forecast for the first day is sunny and 28C, while there could be the chance of storms and showers over the next three days of the Test.
Stats and trivia
- Sachin Tendulkar has the highest average of all Test cricketers at the SCG. In four Tests there he averages 221.33
- VVS Laxman averages 96.20 at the SCG, a far cry from the 14.25 he averages at the MCG
- The changes in Australia's team from this time last year have been stark: only five men who played in the SCG Ashes loss are in the side for this Test
- The only team to have beaten Australia in Sydney Tests in the past 15 years was England, who did it in 2003 and 2011
"I am a bit nervous because the stars seem to be aligning with Sachin needing one more hundred in the 100th Test match in Sydney. He's made runs here before. It's a bit ominous."
Michael Hussey is wary of the elusive milestone on everyone's mind
"Well, he's always close to a milestone. If you see his career in the last three years, whatever he has done, somehow he has been very close to a milestone, whether he's playing the most number of ODIs or Test matches or the 100th hundred or all the things."
MS Dhoni believes Sachin Tendulkar is under no pressure since getting to milestones is second nature to him
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo