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India ready to counter Australian onslaught

Ashish Shukla | December 03, 2003 13:10 IST

Desperate to prove their critics wrong, a determined India will go into the first cricket Test against Australia on Thursday with the belief that they can outperform their almost invincible rivals with the potential that they have.

Skipper Sourav Ganguly, already a target of some pre-match intimidatory tactics, sought to put up a brave front and looked to the first match with guarded optimism.

"It is definitely important to win in Australia. It is a test of our abilities. If we do well here it will take our cricket another step forward," said the Indian skipper.

"They know India is the only side that has beaten them recently. They know at their back of the mind we can throw up a challenge," he said.

But all the brave words of the Indian skipper could fly on the face of Indians who have not won a series outside the subcontinent in 16 years, only three games from 27 Tests in Australia and only six of the past 67 Tests.

India suffered routs of 4-0 and 3-0 on their two previous tours to Australia and have not bowled out an Australian side twice in a match Down Under for as long as 17 years.

Besides history, statistics also is not on their side.

Rahul Dravid averages 15.50 in Australia and has a highest score of 35 from six innings. Ganguly has taken his batting lessons and grinded himself on the nets on the tour so far but the figures of 177 runs from three matches at 29.50 from the last tour inspire little confidence nor does the common knowledge of his dislike for the short-pitched bowling.

VVS Laxman played a benchmark innings against Australia in Kolkata in 2001 and on the previous tour, hit a sublime 167 in Sydney but he still averaged only 36.83 from the series. Even the otherwise aggressive Virender Sehwag has been unable to find his feet against the world beaters.

India do have a Sachin Tendulkar in their line-up but that is little consolation in the face of as daunting an opposition as Australia.

Despite the balance tilted heavily in his side's favour, Australian skipper Steve Waugh, playing his farewell series, showed little ruthlessness and did not put it beyond the Indian batsmen to stand up to home bowling on a quick wicket at Gabba.

"They are world class batsmen and to me, world class batsmen can handle most situations," said the 38-year-old Waugh who will play his last Test in Sydney starting January 2.

"It is an important tour for Indian cricket and they see it as an opportunity to address the situation.

"They also have bowlers who can swing a cricket ball and not many bowlers can do it. If you include the two spinners and Agarkar, they have five bowlers we know who could take wickets."

Waugh may have been modest in his praise but the Indians know bowling would be their weak link when faced with the likes of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist to name a few.

India's conventional strength in spin also looks debatable this time around.

Anil Kumble, every other day, is being questioned on his figures of only five wickets at 90.00 on the previous tour and it seems difficult how he could do better now that he is no longer younger or fitter than 1999-2000, having undergone a major shoulder surgery three years ago.

Harbhajan Singh emerged as a 'Turbanator' for the Australians after his heroics in India in 2001 but he has looked off-colour of date.

The tale of India's fast-bowling department also does not look bright. Javagal Srinath has retired and the baton has passed on to Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra who are averaging over 50 for their spare returns against Australia in one-dayers. Their Test baptism against the world  champions do not promise the dawn of a new era.

But Waugh jumped to the defence of the left-arm duo saying Test cricket would be a different ball-game and they could prove themselves in the longer-version of the game.

"One-day cricket is rushed. Test cricket always gives you time to settle in. In a longer game there are a lot of moments when you could come back and make up for it. In one-dayers it is all over before you know."

Ajit Agarkar suffered both the best and worst moments of his Test careers on the last tour when he did pick up Steve Waugh thrice and 11 wickets from three Tests but suffered a nightmare of five ducks from six balls!

The likes of Akash Chopra, Laxmipathy Balaji, Parthiv Patel, Deep Dasgupta and Irfan Pathan have never before toured Australia, a tour which chaffs men from boys, and it could well be the defining next few weeks of their careers.

The opening pair is perhaps the key to Indian batting this summer and it is learnt Sadagoppan Ramesh will come out to bat with Sehwag at the start of the innings.

Ramesh will thus return to the side after two years and look to rectify the mistakes of last tour when he made 60 from two Tests before fracturing his right middle finger in the second Test in Melbourne.

It is also learnt India would go with three medium-pacers and a spinner. Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar and Harbhajan Singh would be the bowlers for the team. Anil Kumble, despite his fine show against Queensland Academy of Sports, may have to sit out.

Indians have rightly moaned that they have played only two Tests in the past 12 months and now are up against the champion side in a gruelling four-Test series.

The Australian batting line-up of Hayden, Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Steve Waugh are unlikely to make it any easier for the Indians and there is always an Adam Gilchrist at number seven to take a heavy toll of a tiring attack.

Australians are missing their frontline bowling attack of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne for the first time in many years but Jason Gillespie and Andrew Bichel are Test regulars while Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams are ready for Test recognition. Then there is leg-spinner Stuart MacGill who seems to have come out of shadow of Warne finally.


India: Virender Sehwag, Sadagoppan Ramesh, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Aakash Chopra, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble.

Australia: Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Bichel, Stuart MacGill, Jason Gillespie, Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Steve Bucknor (West Indies).

Match-referee: Mike Procter (South Africa).

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