Mumbai: The battle lines drawn, both India and Australia will be eager to clinch the early points in the Boxing Day Test starting Wednesday.
India are not known to be good starters, particularly with the bat. There has been a lot of talk on the mellowing Melbourne wicket but the patch of green subsists.
Although the preparation of the MCG wicket has been hampered by rain over the past week, it has been reported that the conditions are likely to favour the quickies in the first morning. It is here that India stand at a disadvantage should they bat first.
India’s celebrated batting giants haven’t had sufficient outing in the middle to tighten their game for the conditions.
Wasim Jaffer, on song against Pakistan, looked highly ungainly in the three-day game against Victoria. The onus would be on him and Rahul Dravid (who is certain to open the innings) to get India off to a sedate start, if not a spectacular one.
When India’s openers flourish, the middle-order gets going – one of the reasons why India could hold their own in the last series Down Under.
It is imperative also that Tendulkar & Co. hit the straps quickly. Leaving balls outside the off-stick could also decide the course of the series. There could be a batting fest even on MCG once the opening spell is negated.
There is a callow look to India’s bowling, compounded further by Zaheer Khan’s injury. So much so that the team management is keen to have Munaf Patel on the board. It is learnt that bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad expressed his concern at the inability of India's right-arm fast bowlers to hit the right length on Australian wickets.
Ominous signs given that Australia’s batting juggernaut is on a roll. The Kangaroos’ middle-order may flounder occasionally but they have the class and the depth to pull them out of the trough. Remember the Ashes Test at this same ground last year and the rollicking stand between Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden from a perilous 5-84.
India, though, should be enthused by RP Singh’s return. Harbhajan Singh is likely to miss out should India opt for a three-pronged pace attack comprising Zaheer Khan (if fit), RP Singh and Ishant Sharma.
The fielding continues to be a major worry. Australia’s longer boundaries will test the ageing bones to the hilt. Converting the half-chances is perhaps the only way to countervail the disadvantage.
Australia, as their wont, have all the bases covered. It would be interesting to see whether Brad Hogg gets the nod ahead of Shaun Tait.
Although Ricky Ponting says that he will take a call on it after assessing the conditions, he has categorically stated “Indians would rather play the spin of Hogg instead of the steaming pace of Tait.”
Saurav Ganguly’s 100th Test is symbolic of the hardest ordeal the Indian team has faced in recent times.
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