India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai

Spin v pace in series opener

The Preview by Siddarth Ravindran

February 21, 2013

Comments: 132 | Text size: A | A

Match facts

February 22-26, Chennai
Start time 9.30am (0400GMT)


Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the applause for his half-century, India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 1st day, December 5, 2012
The final home series for Sachin Tendulkar? © BCCI
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For a rivalry that has produced plenty of gripping cricket over the past decade or so, the run-up to this series has been strangely muted. The Indian captain hasn't spoken to the press even once before the series, there have been no major controversies in the warm-up matches, there hasn't been too much of the pre-series mind games, and even the broadcasters' TV campaign has changed from the taunting tone it had before the England series to a more sober, cricket-centric one.

Both India and Australia are going through a generational change in the batting, but when it comes to the bowling, the Chennai Test could feature two of the most contrasting line-ups in any match. Though the surface at the Chidambaram Stadium is expected to have plenty of turn, Australia are going in with only one specialist spinner in Nathan Lyon, and with three fast bowlers and medium-pace bowling allrounder Moises Henriques. India, on the other hand, are almost certain to start with only one quick bowler in Ishant Sharma, and play three, or even four, spinners. Unexpectedly, India announced a day ahead of the Test that Harbhajan Singh, Australia's nemesis on so many occasions, will be in the XI for what will be his 100th Test.

The series also presents a huge challenge for both captains.In Chennai Michael Clarke, without the reassuring presence of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, will be leading a XI of which only three players have played a Test in India. The other eight all have 20 Test caps or less. For MS Dhoni, whose stocks have steadily declined since the high of the 2011 World Cup, another high-profile home series defeat could trigger the end of his Test captaincy.

When these two teams faced off in a Test series last year, the consensus in India was that the tour offered the best chance to beat Australia in Australia. It ended with India losing all four Tests, some of them in an abjectly one-sided manner. This will be a much closer contest - India have been flaky in Tests over the past couple of years but still have a formidable home record, while a re-building Australia briefly flirted with a return to the No. 1 spot but have traditionally found the going difficult in India.

Form guide

(Last five matches, most recent first)
India DLLWW
Australia WWWLD

Watch out for...

A spate of injuries to India's quick bowlers has thrust Ishant Sharma into the role of pace spearhead. The only other fast bowlers in the squad are Ashok Dinda and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, neither of whom have made their Test debuts. Indian cricket has given Ishant a long rope, but nearly 50 Tests into his career, his bowling average is a disappointing 38. Television ads building up to this series are still replaying his famous spell to Ricky Ponting from five years ago. Over the next month, Ishant needs to deliver on the promise that heady performance showcased.

Shane Watson is another player who is in a more senior role than he would have expected. The departure of Ponting and Hussey means that he is the only batsman besides Clarke who has played Tests in India. In addition to his responsibilities as an experienced member of the side, Watson will also have to adjust to playing as a specialist No. 4 batsman in this series. He has spent much of his Test career as an opener who also bowled medium-pace, and his decision to not bowl in this series will have critics pointing to his lack of centuries and questioning whether he is good enough to be in the side as a pure batsman.

Teams

India's two major decisions are over who will partner Virender Sehwag at the top of the order, and the identity of the No. 6 batsman. M Vijay is the front-runner for the opening slot, ahead of Shikhar Dhawan, while the No. 6 position is likely to be a toss-up between Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja.

India: (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Ravindra Jadeja/Ajinkya Rahane, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Pragyan Ojha

Australia announced their XI two days ahead of the Test, picking Moises Henriques for the allrounder's spot, ahead of Glenn Maxwell.

Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Ed Cowan, 3 Phillip Hughes, 4 Shane Watson, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Matthew Wade (wk), 7 Moises Henriques, 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 James Pattinson, 11 Nathan Lyon

Pitch and conditions

For a city that is one of the major cricketing centres in the country, and one that is reputed to have a Test-appreciating crowd, it is a bit surprising that Chennai hasn't hosted a Test match since the famous chase of 387 against England in December 2008. The Chepauk pitch is completely devoid of grass and is expected to be spinner-friendly. Temperatures are expected to be around 30 degrees and no rain is predicted over the next week.

Stats and trivia

  • In 12 Tests against Australia at home, Harbhajan Singh has 84 wickets at 24.48, including seven five-wicket hauls
  • Henriques is set to become the second Portugal-born Test cricketer, after South Africa's Dick Westcott
  • In the past 28 years, India have lost only one Test in Chennai - the iconic 1999 match against Pakistan

Quotes

"I said we can beat Australia 4-0 and why not? If you don't believe in yourself, who will? I believe we can do it, and we can work towards it. you have got to believe in yourself."
Harbhajan Singh

"I'm not that bothered about what's happened in regards to the Indian series against England. I watched a fair bit of it ... but we're a different team to England."
Michael Clarke

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Malediction on (February 22, 2013, 7:42 GMT)

This pitch is falling apart before drinks on the first day. A good cricket wicket is an even contest between bat and ball. Something early for the quicks, settles down for the batsmen then wears and takes turn to give the spinners an opportunity. Test cricket in India has become a test of batsmen playing spin only. It may get them a few wins at home, but really just makes them even more vulnerable when playing away. The solution to playing badly is to play better, not try and change the game.

Posted by gsingh7 on (February 22, 2013, 7:22 GMT)

@ jaysus-- give it a rest mate wait till both teams bat first, india cud be all out for 200 or they cud post 500 plus to bat aus out of game , the latter is more probable with lyon the sole spinner. even his mates wudnt bank on his off spinners. wat is thaT WORD WITH'L' THAT comes to mind , speaking of which losing in india is nothing new for aussies , last 2 series were 2-0 blow out , this cud get worse.

Posted by Jayzuz on (February 22, 2013, 3:51 GMT)

You do have to wonder just how blatant the pitch meddling has to be before somebody makes a formal complaint. The pitch looks like it has been baked in a furnace, with the local exterminator called out to extinguish all biological life from its surface. Is there not a requirement to put grass on cricket pitches? It does irk me that the Indians complain about pitch doctoring when they are provided perfectly standard pitches when they travel overseas - and then they go and do this kind of thing when other teams tour. What is that word that begins with "h"? Speaking of other "h" words, I thought honour was an important concept in that part of the world?

Posted by Simoc on (February 22, 2013, 3:49 GMT)

It's such a conservative team Oz has gone in with. A reflection of the ancient selectors. This does not look like an Oz team capable of winning. India would have to be abysmal to lose to this Oz team. By the third test Oz will be picking the right team for the conditions and it may be to late to win the series.

Posted by oneupnowuv on (February 22, 2013, 3:46 GMT)

Jadeja over Rahane,Ashwin over Ojha very poor selections...cmon Aussies beat them black and blue.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2013, 3:24 GMT)

Disappointed to not see gambhir and Raina in team. Raina has been ver consistent. 100 times better than jadeja. Even in one days he plays according to situation. Is he bein punished because he has strokes.

Posted by hramesh on (February 22, 2013, 3:15 GMT)

Please do not have three or 4 spinners in the side include bhuvanesh kumar, and then jadeja, so you will have 5 bowlers

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