In the absence of a potent spin attack, the responsibility on Stuart Clark has increased and he can be a handful with his nagging accuracy
Oct 9-13, 2008
Start time 9.30am (0400 GMT)
All the talk of retirement and succession planning has hogged the limelight over the last few weeks, but thankfully the focus will switch to the cricket when India and Australia take the field in the first of four Tests, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday. For both teams, the series is of massive importance: the Australians are in transition mode, and are searching for replacements who can adequately fill the huge voids left by Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist; the next month could be a pointer to just how well the team will fare in their absence. For the Indians, this series is the last time their five experienced stalwarts will all be playing together. With the Australians so inexperienced to these conditions - none of their specialist bowlers have bowled a ball in a Test in India - this is an excellent opportunity for India to sneak a series win after two successive losses against them.
Australia may be a relatively weaker team, but that's only when compared to their formidable sides of the recent past. The batting has plenty of class, while the pace attack will probably ask uncomfortable questions of the Indian line-up even on slow tracks.
India have the better balanced bowling attack and plenty of experience in their batting, but most of their top order are coming off a lean spell in Sri Lanka. The home advantage belongs to India, but Australia have done well in Bangalore in the past: the last time they played here was also in the series opener, and they cruised home by 217 runs, with Michael Clarke scoring a delightful 151 and winning the Man-of-the-Match award on debut.
Form guide (last 5 Tests)
Watch out for
Stuart Clark: All eyes will be on Brett Lee when the Indian innings gets underway, but watch out for Stuart Clark, whose nagging accuracy and ability to seam the ball both ways can be a huge weapon for Australia.
Ricky Ponting:. Enough has been written about Ponting's abysmal record in India, and he'll be keen to make an emphatic statement to counter that as soon as possible. He has conquered Muttiah Muralitharan in Sri Lanka, so there's no reason why he can't tackle Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in India.
Sourav Ganguly: His decision to retire at the end of this series means he will probably bat with greater freedom. Plus, he has pleasant memories of this ground - the last time he batted here, he scored 330 in two innings, which is the second-highest runs scored by any batsman in a single Test in Bangalore.
Harbhajan Singh v Australian top order Ponting has struggled against him in the past, and Matthew Hayden has had plenty to say about him off the field. Expect some intriguing clashes when Harbhajan gets the ball.
India have left out S Badrinath and RP Singh from their squad. They are almost certain to go with six specialist batsmen, which means Amit Mishra and Munaf Patel will probably miss out as well.
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.
Australia have excluded Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle and Phil Jaques in their XII, and the only decision they need to make on the morning of the game is which spinner to play. Considering the ease with which Jason Krejza was handled in the tour game, it's likely that Cameron White will make his Test debut. White also happens to be a very handy option with the bat.
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 Stuart Clark.
Pitch & conditions
Both captains reckoned the pitch looked fairly hard and would be good for batting on the first couple of days before aiding spin. The weather has been unpredictable over the last couple of days, and the forecast is for scattered thundershowers over the next five days. If overcast conditions prevail, the fast bowlers will have something to cheer as well.
Stats & Trivia
India haven't won a Test in Bangalore in the last 13 years. During this period they've played six Tests here and lost four, including two to Australia.
Anil Kumble's batting average in Bangalore (27.87) is higher than that of VVS Laxman (24.28) and Rahul Dravid (20.54) at this ground.
The last six decisive Tests between India and Australia have all been won by the team winning the toss.
If he bats at No.3, which he is likely to, Dravid will become the first batsman to bat at that position in 100 Tests.
Sachin Tendulkar needs 76 runs equal Brian Lara's record of 11,953 runs in Test cricket.
"Certainly this is my last Test match in Bangalore. I don't know when the next Test match is. As I have always said, I take one series at a time. So this certainly will be my last Bangalore Test."
Anil Kumble announces that he won't be playing another Test in front of his home ground
"There's no doubt that yesterday afternoon and today the Indian team would have faced pressure of different distractions than they're used to. Everyone would have wanted to talk about Sourav's retirement. They'll be facing that now for the next four weeks."
Ricky Ponting feels the pressure will be off Ganguly, for a change
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo