Odds stacked against Australia in India

If statistics and experience alone won cricket matches, world champions Australia would be regarded as no-hopers in the Test series against India starting on Thursday.

Twelve in the 15-man touring squad have a combined tally of only 130 Tests between them, the same number that India captain Anil Kumble has played and 20 fewer than batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar.

Captain Ricky Ponting, veteran opener Matthew Hayden, and middle-order batsmen Michael Clarke and Simon Katich are the only ones who have experienced a Test match atmosphere in India before.

And the spin options are bare following the retirements of the legendary Shane Warne and his understudy, Stuart MacGill, with no one to exploit wickets that traditionally favour slow bowlers.

On paper, the series would appear a cakewalk for the Indians.

In real terms, however, it leaves an enthralling contest on offer for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy between two evenly matched teams.

“This is the best chance for us to pull it off,” said Kumble, determined to overturn the 2-1 defeat at home in 2004 and an identical loss Down Under earlier this year.

“We want to win this one badly. Good for us that the Aussies consider themselves the underdogs.
We have to exploit their relative inexperience in our own conditions.”

The tussle between India’s battle-hardened batting veterans and Australia’s pace firepower will provide the backdrop for one of the most eagerly awaited four-Test series in recent times.

Tendulkar (35), who needs only 77 more runs to overtake Brian Lara as Test cricket’s leading scorer, heads the charge of the senior brigade that includes Rahul Dravid (35), Sourav Ganguly (36) and Venkatsai Laxman (33).

Much would, however, depend on pugnacious match-winner Virender Sehwag, India’s lone triple-centurion in Tests, who has achieved the feat twice in the last four years.

India will look to Sehwag and his Delhi teammate, Gautam Gambhir, to blunt the Aussie pace attack of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson and rookie Peter Siddle.

India’s spin twins, Kumble and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, are waiting to prey on Australia’s perceived weakness against the turning ball, particularly skipper Ponting.

Since arriving in India a fortnight ago, Ponting has been constantly reminded of his poor batting average of 12,28 in eight previous Tests on Indian soil, in contrast to his career average of 58,37.

Of his 14 innings in India since 1996, Ponting has fallen to spinners 13 times, with Harbhajan claiming him on five occasions and Kumble on four.

The Australian captain, however, appeared to be making sense of Indian wickets when he hit 41 and 58 not out in a tour game in Hyderabad over the weekend.

“As everybody knows, it’s been spoken about a lot here already. My record in India is not as good as it is in other parts of the world,” said Ponting. “It means a lot to me to do well here.

“It’s my time now to stand up and make sure I score some runs.”

With rookie off-spinner Jason Krejza proving inadequate in the tour match, where he went for 0-199, Australia will bank on their pace quartet to deliver with occasional support from part-time spinner Michael Clarke.

The Bangalore Test will be followed by back-to-back matches in Mohali, New Delhi and Nagpur.—Sapa-AFP

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