Fitness worries and weather take centrestage
Match factsOct 17-21, 2008
Start time 9.30am (0400 GMT)
After the attritional cricket in Bangalore, where one team dominated much of the contest and the other refused to give in, Mohali - where the pitch isn't as slow as Bangalore - holds the prospect of a more lively encounter. Both teams will, however, need to rework their plans of attack to land the first punch in the series.
The challenge for Australia will be not only to get into a commanding position against India, like they did in Bangalore, but also to close out the match, which they failed to do in the first Test. All of their batsmen, however, with the exceptions of Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke, made runs: Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey scored maiden Test centuries in India, while Shane Watson and Brad Haddin allayed concerns about an untested lower-middle order. Their fast bowlers, Mitchell Johnson and Watson in particular, showed that inexperience in Indian conditions was not a hurdle that couldn't be cleared.
Although India's batsmen played out the fifth day to secure a draw in Bangalore, the match was really saved on the third evening because of plucky batting from Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Their batting, however, isn't a major worry since most batsmen made contributions at some stage of the Test. India's biggest problem is the fitness of their captain Anil Kumble. He had a poor match in Bangalore, where he bowled 51 overs without a wicket, and struggled with a shoulder injury. He bowled during an indoor net session on Thursday but will decide on his participation in the Test only on the morning of the match.
The build-up to the first Test in Bangalore was unusually quiet. By the end of the match, however, tensions were simmering: Zaheer said the Australians were defensive; Ponting brushed aside the comments; and Kumble was writing indignant columns in response to media speculation about his future. Normal service, it seems, has been resumed.
Form guide (last 5 Tests)India DLWLW
Watch out for
Matthew Hayden: He made a duck and 13 in Bangalore, falling to Zaheer Khan on both occasions, and Australia struggled to score at three runs per over. Hayden's imposing style of batting will be crucial to the tempo of the Australian innings.
Michael Hussey: Hayden and Ponting are Australia's high-profile batsmen but Hussey is the fulcrum of the line-up. He scored 146 and 31 in the first Test and was done in only by big reverse swing and a freak doosra. His ability to string partnerships together with the lower order ensures extra depth in Australia's batting line-up.
Kumble: If he plays, Kumble will be under intense scrutiny especially after his outburst against the media. The Bangalore Test was only the third match of his career in which he failed to take a wicket. Kumble didn't bowl until late Australia's second innings and also dropped two catches.
Zaheer and Ishant Sharma: Spin was touted as India's strength in the lead-up to the series but Zaheer and Ishant took 13 out of 16 Australian wickets in Bangalore. They bowled accurately with the new ball and got the old one to reverse early and unsettle the batsmen.
If Kumble plays India will name an unchanged XI. However, if he pulls out India are likely to change their two-spinner strategy and play Munaf Patel as the third fast bowler.
India (likely) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Clark's elbow injury has given Victoria fast bowler Peter Siddle the opportunity to make his debut. He's been preferred over left-arm swing bowler Doug Bollinger to complete the four-man pace attack. Cameron White will hold on to the spinner's spot after a satisfactory performance in Bangalore while Simon Katich's solid performance as opener will keep Phil Jaques out of the XI.
Australia (likely) 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Shane Watson, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Cameron White, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Peter Siddle.
Pitch & conditions
It's been raining in Mohali but the forecast for the Test is more promising. "Heavy rains came down as recently as October 4 and water, two and a half feet deep, collected on the surface which initially affected our ground preparations," the curator Daljit Singh said. The pitch hasn't had much sun in the lead-up to the Test and Daljit feared that there might be moisture under the surface which could make it sluggish. A spell of sunshine, however, should bring the bounce back.
Stats & Trivia
"They obviously miss the quality of a Shane Warne and a Stuart MacGill. On Indian wickets you definitely need a spinner to come into play, if not in the first innings then certainly in the second. That's certainly something we will look to cash in on. Having said that, to win a match, we need to get big scores from the batters and every bowler has to contribute."
Kumble said on the eve of the Test.
"There was a lot made of the inexperience factor coming here, but all those inexperienced guys showed they are more than capable of performing well at international level."
Ponting says the inexperience of the squad isn't as big a deal as it's made out to be.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo