Shrugging off disappointments from the last season, India will seek to reaffirm their supremacy on home soil when they take on a new-look Australian side in the first cricket Test at Chennai on Friday in what promises to a thrilling four-match series.
The Indian team under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership will ideally look to re-establish their invincibility at home — which has largely been dented by their 1-2 Test series defeat against England last year.
Australia, on the other hand, will be happy to emulate England and considering that they have come with a no-so experienced side will make it even more praiseworthy.
India versus Australia series over the years have had some memorable matches and one would expect that it won’t be any different this time around.
While someone like Sachin Tendulkar would like to face the challenges thrown by Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson head on, the likes of Phil Hughes, Matthew Wade, Ed Cowan and David Warner will aim at successfully negotiating the spin threat of Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha.
Australia announced their playing XI 48 hours prior to the start of the game and predictably kept only one specialist spinner in Nathan Lyon in their line-up.
The visitors will have a three-pronged pace attack led by Siddle while Moises Henriques beat Glenn Maxwell to a ‘Baggy Green’ mainly because of his ability to bowl seam-up as Shane Watson will be playing purely as a batsman.
The Indians however have some brainstorming to do before selecting their playing XI.
Among the slots that will be up for grabs, the foremost will be that of Virender Sehwag’s opening partner.
As of now Murali Vijay looks to be the frontrunner to partner Sehwag on former’s home turf. What goes in Vijay’s favour will be his century in the Irani Trophy and his experience of having played 12 Tests. Interestingly, his only century has come against Australia in Bangalore, during India’s last home series back in 2010.
Delhi opener Shikhar Dhawan has had a good season and has played a lot alongside Sehwag for his state and zonal side.
The fact that Dhawan is a left-hander could come into consideration as the team management might opt for a left-right combination.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli are automatic choices in the middle-order as they take the slots from No 3 to 5. This could well be tendulkar’s last duel with the Aussies and he would like to cap it with another memorable show.
The second point of debate would be the slot in the middle-order. The choice for the team management will be between Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane.
Jadeja’s all-round abilities provide him with a clear edge, having Rahane in the side would mean that India have a lot of depth in their batting to counter the pace and swing of the Aussie quicks.
Jadeja’s inclusion will also be an indication as to whether India will be going with three specialist spinners in Harbhajan, Ashwin and Ojha or would drop one of the three spinners.
Last time against England in Nagpur, India went with four spinners in Jadeja, Ashwin, Piyush Chawla and Ojha and none of them could make significant impact on a dead Jamtha track.
It will be a tough choice for Dhoni whether to drop Harbhajan or Ashwin in case Jadeja plays. Since Ojha is a certainty, local boy Ashwin could be Dhoni’s pick but the burly Tamil Nadu off-spinner’s form has been very patchy during past six months.
Harbhajan might not have set the stage alight during this phase but he is one bowler whose success ratio has been pretty high against Australians and the opposition batsmen treat the ‘Turbanator’ with a lot of respect.
The 22-yard strip at the Chepauk has been a slow turner over the years but fast bowlers can expect to get reverse swing during the later stages.
Indian team doesn’t have an exponent of reverse swing like Zaheer Khan. Ashok Dinda is a bit one-dimensional as he only likes to hit the deck hard while Bhuvneshwar Kumar lacks pace and has not even bowled much with the old white ball in ODIs.
This means extensive workload for Ishant Sharma, who will be carrying the burden of the pace attack. The lanky Delhi lad is getting better but having one among Dinda or Bhuvneshwar would not be a bad idea as that would help bowl well in tandem.
For the visitors, it will be a test of their new-look batting attack which neither has Ricky Ponting nor Mike Hussey. In the two warm-up games, save Cowan and Watson, others didn’t look too comfortable against lesser-known spinner like Parveez Rasool, Rakesh Dhruv and Jalaj Saxena.
The middle-order is vulnerable where skipper Clarke, who is straightaway coming into the Test match, after recuperating from an injury, will hold key. Similarly with Warner, who will be expected to give the visitors blazing start with his aggressive strokeplay.