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March 10, 2013
Reasons for hope have been few and far between for the Australians during this tour of India. But the third Test in Mohali was always going to provide a glimmer. Last time a Test was played at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium was in 2010, when India beat Australia by one wicket. Mitchell Johnson took a five-for. So did Zaheer Khan. Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger were in the wickets. All up, 25 batsmen fell to pace over the course of the Test, and only 12 to spin.
Of course, a lot can change in two and a half years. Just ask Simon Katich, who was opening with Shane Watson during that Test. Or the first-choice spinner Nathan Hauritz. In fact, Clarke, Watson and Johnson are the only three men from that XI who are part of this squad. But after India's spinners claimed 20 wickets in Chennai and 14 in Hyderabad, any suggestion of a more pace-friendly surface will be welcomed by the Australians.
"I think it is the one place in India, or one of the few places in India, that is renowned for a bit of pace and bounce," the allrounder Moises Henriques, who has played limited-overs cricket at the venue, said. "But in comparison to wickets in Australia there still won't be the same amount that you get back home. But it's certainly one place where the quicks could come in and do a little bit more damage on."
The Australians trained at the ground on Sunday but the pitch square remained under cover in gloomy weather, with the possibility of rain during the day. It has been difficult for the Australian fast bowlers so far on the tour, although James Pattinson used his pace to collect six wickets in Chennai. Henriques was the fourth seamer in Chennai and the third in Hyderabad, and has managed only one wicket at 93.
"It has been tough. I feel like I've been bowling okay without really having that penetration to get through and take some wickets, which a lot of the seam bowlers have been struggling with over here," Henriques said. "I've got to not only be able to keep it tight as the allrounder and build pressure but somehow find a way to start taking some wickets as well. It is tough for the quicks over here but maybe we're not coming up with the right plans." However, Henriques was impressive with the bat with a pair of half-centuries on debut in Chennai, before he was bowled trying to play against the spin in the first innings in Hyderabad and then suffered an unfortunate run-out in the second innings. The struggles of Australia's batting line-up mean Henriques remains the second leading run scorer in the squad with 154 at 51.33, and the batsmen need to offer significantly more support to Michael Clarke, who has 268 runs at 67.
"Michael has been scoring a lot of runs for us and we need to chip in and take a lot of the pressure off Michael so he can play with a bit of freedom," Henriques said. "We do have the players to do it and after the first couple of Tests we're starting to learn more about the conditions over here. I think a lot of the ... playing XI hadn't played a lot of cricket over here, especially in five-day cricket. Although it was disappointing the first two Tests are a learning curve. We've just got to keep learning and getting better, that's all we can do at this stage."
A return to Mohali might also provide some pleasant memories for the vice-captain Watson, who has not scored a Test hundred since his 126 in the last Test at the venue in 2010. Clarke's decision to move up the order for this game could mean Watson is also bumped up to No.3, if the struggling Phillip Hughes is left out, but the batting line-up is far from the only decision Australia's selectors must make over the next few days.
Unless the pitch provides a surprise when it is uncovered, it is unlikely the Australians will again pick two spinners as they did in Hyderabad, meaning either Johnson or Mitchell Starc would likely be included. There is also the question of which spinner to play, with Xavier Doherty having struggled for impact until the end of India's innings in Hyderabad and Nathan Lyon having been axed to work on some technical issues after the first Test.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala