Advantage India at favoured venue
Friday, October 1, Mohali
Start time 9:30am (0400 GMT)
The Big Picture
A Test series between India and Australia should be enough to whet the appetite of any cricket fan. But is that true of a contest spanning only two matches? We're about to find out. The abbreviated nature of the trip notwithstanding, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is up for grabs. India are the holders after their 2-0 win at home this time two years ago, but much has changed since then. Australia entered that tour ranked No. 1 among Test teams and India were third. MS Dhoni's men are now at the top of the list, while the Australians have slipped to fourth. If Australia lose the series, they'll fall to fifth and begin the Ashes ranked lower than England.
There are several fascinating subplots in this series. Will Harbhajan Singh continue to mesmerise Ricky Ponting? How will Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar, Test cricket's highest scorers, fare in what could be their final series against each other? Can Rahul Dravid find a way to dominate Australia, a team that has had his measure since 2004? Will Nathan Hauritz hold his own against the world's best players of spin? Is Marcus North on his last chance? And what controversy will arise?
India haven't lost a Test series for two years and, despite drawing their last two, have so much talent in their batting line-up that it is hard to see how Australia can win. That is especially true of the first Test in Mohali, where India have lost only once, winning thrice and drawing five Tests. Can 20 wickets come from Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger and Hauritz? Australia can dream, but India are unquestionably the favourites.
Watch out for...
It has been a heady couple of years for Suresh Raina. In that period, he has managed to force his way back from the wilderness through some compelling performances in the IPL, and done well in the shorter formats for India. Injury to Yuvraj Singh gave him a rare opening into Test cricket and he latched on with a fine debut century against Sri Lanka. That innings was testimony Raina's mental fortitude but, coming as it did on a flat track against a friendly attack, it did not say much about his technical prowess. Questions remain over Raina's ability to handle the bouncer and the next few months, including a tour to South Africa, offer him a chance to address those concerns. At some point over the next five days, Johnson and co. are going to test Raina with the short stuff, possibly with the help of the second new ball. How will he respond?
Since Shane Watson stepped into the opening role during last year's Ashes, only Simon Katich and Michael Clarke have scored more Test runs for Australia. Last time Australia played Tests in India, Watson was making his long-awaited return to the baggy green and slotted in as a useful, if not outstanding, No. 6. He will be wary of Ishant Sharma's ability to jag the ball back in; that angle has been a weakness for Watson at the top of the order. Stuart Broad and Graham Onions repeatedly trapped him lbw using that method last year and three of his four dismissals against Pakistan in July also came against the ball moving in. But Watson has started the tour well, with a century in each innings of the warm-up game, and will look to use this trip to add to his one Test hundred.
An injury to Harbhajan has cast a cloud over India's hopes of having their first-choice attack back in action, following endless fitness issues in Sri Lanka. Dhoni said India will take a call on the offspinner on Friday morning. If Harbhajan does not make the cut, Pragyan Ojha will assume the role of lead spinner. Mohali's seamer-friendly reputation gives Sreesanth an opportunity to make the final XI as the third fast bowler, ahead of legspinner Amit Mishra. The batsmen pick themselves and, barring last-minute fitness issues, M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara are likely to sit out.
India (possible) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (capt and wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh / Amit Mishra / Sreesanth, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Pragyan Ojha
Australia are waiting to see how well Doug Bollinger and Michael Hussey train after their last-minute dash to India from the Champions League in South Africa. However, it would be a surprise if either man was left out. The only change from the team that lost to Pakistan at Headingley in July is likely to be the inclusion of Nathan Hauritz, who has recovered from his foot injury, at the expense of Steven Smith.
Australia (possible) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Marcus North, 7 Tim Paine (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Doug Bollinger.
Pitch and conditions
The Australians spotted a tinge of green on the pitch after heavy rain in Mohali, adding to the likelihood they would play just one specialist spinner. However, there is a chance the normally quick surface might play a little slower than usual due to the weather. It was here two years ago that Peter Siddle announced himself by thumping Gautam Gambhir on the helmet with his first ball in Test cricket. Dhoni admitted the difficulty in predicting how the pitch would play. "We will have to see the wicket tomorrow. It looks a bit damp, it's been watered a bit. It looks like a good track. There may by a bit of skid for the fast bowlers," he said.
Stats and trivia
- Over the last ten years, Australia have lost more Tests to India than they have won. India are the only team that can boast of this record over Australia for the decade
- During that period, Australia are the only team to have beaten India in a series at home
- No bowler has dismissed Ricky Ponting more times in Test cricket than Harbhajan Singh, who has claimed his wicket on 10 occasions
- With the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan is now the leading wicket-taker among active Test spinners, with 357
- Michael Hussey and Simon Katich, who started their careers as opponents in Under-13s cricket in Perth, begin this series each having played 52 Tests and each having scored exactly 3981 runs
"It doesn't matter on whom the pressure is. At the end of the day, you are expected to win if you are playing at home. Your ranking doesn't matter here much."
MS Dhoni is not too caught up with the rankings
"It is going to be a very big test for our bowlers and for me as a captain. India is the No. 1 team in the world and they are there for a reason."
Ricky Ponting, on the other hand, is not losing sight of India's standing
"Whenever I play against the Aussies and perform, I feel good. I will try to perform even better this time so that next time when the next series happens they should again take my name first."
Harbhajan Singh gears up to play his favourite opposition
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.