Friday, March 1, 2013
Different approaches, different results and different mindsets heading into Hyderabad would probably best summarise Australia’s tour of India so far. The hosts wiped the dust bowl at Chennai’s MA Chidambaram Stadium clean with their trump card, spin, as Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja shared all 20 Australian wickets among themselves.
Australia, meanwhile, decided to stick to their guns and went with their strength, playing four pace bowlers and just the one specialist spinner in Nathan Lyon. James Pattinson bent his back on a pace-less pitch to justify the strategy as he went on to take a five-wicket haul in the first innings; at the end of the game, he had six of India’s 12 wickets that fell to his name. However, Lyon could manage just four and leaked 200-plus runs in India’s first-innings total of 572.
In the end, a lead of 192 was too much for the Australians to overcome and set a good enough target for India to chase in the fourth innings. To their credit, rather, to debutant Moises Henriques’s credit, Australia did well to make India bat again and take the match into a fifth day after being at 137 for seven a few minutes after Tea on Day Four.
The pitch at Hyderabad isn’t expected to spit as many cobras as the one at Chennai. Local cricketing hero and recently-turned commentator, VVS Laxman, described it as “hard, firm and crumbling”. You wouldn’t think the Australians would be too ecstatic on hearing this, given Chennai behaved almost the same way. But indications are that Hyderabad would probably not turn right away from Day One, which would make the toss a lottery for whoever wins it.
It is to be seen whether Australia stick to their guts and play four pacers again around Lyon. But given the drubbing they received in Chennai at the hands of India’s spin trio, and how the host batsmen milked runs off their quicks, and spinner for that matter, coach Mickey Arthur would do well to resist the temptation of giving a third Test cap to left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty.
However, playing Doherty would mean leaving out one of Peter Siddle, Pattinson or Mitchell Starc. Henriques is definite to make the cut following his heroics with the bat (68 and 81 not out). Siddle is the most experienced of the lot and would be an automatic choice too. Between Pattinson and Starc, the latter seems most likely to be made the sacrificial kangaroo, since Pattinson was genuinely troubling the Indians. However, the 22-year-old Victorian could just be rested in Hyderabad, since he has recently recuperated from a lower rib injury and tends to break down if he exerts himself a lot.
Doherty is quite similar to India’s chief tormentor in the England defeat at home, Monty Panesar, in the sense both are quick through the air. After seeing how Panesar ran his way through the Indian batting on rank turners just a couple of months ago, playing the 30-year-old could just prove to be the right gamble for Australia.
India, on the other hand, look set to play the same XI come March 2, given they were so successful in Chennai. This means local boy Pragyan Ojha isn't likely to make the cut even in his hometown. Captain MS Dhoni likes the idea of playing two off-spinners, Ashwin and Harbhajan, who get the ball to turn away from Australia's four left-handed batsmen in the top six. Slow left-arm bowler Jadeja, who can also bat, unlike Ojha, provides the variation in the spin arsenal.
As for the batting, the openers’ slot looks the most unsettled, with Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay sharing 37 runs between them in the two innings at Chennai. Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane are waiting on the sidelines for their opportunity, but Dhoni put his faith in Sehwag and Vijay in the post-match presser, saying the duo need to be given time to settle.
With the selection of the squad for the third and fourth Tests set to take place after the culmination of the Hyderabad rubber, the onus is on Sehwag and Vijay to perform. The rest of the Indian batting looks good enough to stroll their way through this series.
Both teams would love to get a win here. India would get an unassailable lead in the series if they win, whereas Australia will be gunning to do all that’s in their capacity to prevent that from happening and get back on level terms in the four-match series. The Australians hate to lose, wherever in the world they are, and India can expect a strong comeback at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
India (Probable): Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma.
Australia (Probable): David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Matthew Wade (wk), Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Xavier Doherty.
(This article first appeared here)