Spin v pace in series opener
Match factsFebruary 22-26, Chennai
Start time 9.30am (0400GMT)
Big pictureFor 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)
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.
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 conditionsFor 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."
"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."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo