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India Down Under

The Adelaide Oval -- a must-win for India

Daniel Laidlaw

Adelaide Oval
 Adelaide Oval
 Pic: Allsport
In a three-Test series, to lose the first Test is to virtually concede the series. History shows that visiting teams which trail 1-0 in a three-Test encounter find it exceedingly difficult to come back. It is for that reason that India must seize upon its best chance of winning a Test in Australia by emerging victorious from the first Test in Adelaide, commencing December 10.

At worst India needs take a positive draw out of the City of Churches, but gaining the initiative is imperative and to win the first Test would throw all the pressure back on the home side. An initial loss for India, however, would spell disaster because the Adelaide Oval wicket is ideally suited to the tourists' playing style and they can't afford to spurn this opportunity.

Sure, Sydney has the reputation for a pitch which provides ample assistance to the spinners and India should also find conditions there to their liking. But the Sydney Cricket Ground is hosting the third Test in the New Year and by that time, the series could already be decided. If India seriously aims to defeat the Australians at home, then they should be looking to Sydney as a place to close out the series, not win their only Test.

No, they must capitalise on the batsman-friendly conditions to be found in Adelaide and let Anil Kumble go to work on the Aussies in the latter half of the match when there is turn on offer.

By breaking through and winning the first Test, India's poor away record of 1 win in 13 years can become a statistic of the past and given no further consideration for the tour. In 6 Tests between Australia and India at the Adelaide Oval, Australia has won 4, with 2 drawn. India has, in fact, won just 3 of 25 Tests in Australia. The first Test is the perfect time to improve those statistics.

South Australia, the state team, regularly plays two spinners in Adelaide and one would think India must play to its strength by selecting both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who would have taken note of the havoc wreaked by Saqlain Mushtaq on the Australians in the first innings of the Hobart Test.

Realistically, the conditions in Adelaide are the most welcoming India could wish to find. Hoping to win in Sydney, which has a relaid pitch, is leaving it too late. Captain Sachin Tendulkar has said it doesn't matter which part of Australia India plays in, and to a large degree that is true. But while conditions are in your favour, it is important to make the most of them.

India can draw first blood by compiling a big score, which would both demoralise the Australian attack and revive unpleasant memories for Australia of their last series encounter with India. If they can be bowling at Australia last on a wearing pitch, then it is a great opportunity to press for a result. It is still a tall order, but even a dominant draw would inspire some confidence which can be carried over to the rest of the series.

Much has been made of the excessive bounce in Australian pitches, but at the centres India is visiting - Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney - it should not be a factor. Perth and Brisbane are Australia's fastest wickets and those were reserved for Tests against Pakistan. In Adelaide and Sydney, we have two of the flatter wickets. Adelaide, in fact, is known as a featherbed; a batsman's paradise. Well, almost.

Certainly there should not be the excessive early seam movement one would associate with Brisbane and for the first three days the bounce should be consistent and true. The Adelaide Oval pitch normally turns on days 4 and 5, something which Kumble and Warne will enjoy. Not that the fast bowlers should be written off, of course, for the pacemen prepared to bend their backs and work hard like McGrath and Srinath should also reap rewards.

The Adelaide Oval has had a reputation for being a "draw" venue, but belying that assumption is the fact that 7 of the last 8 Tests here have ended in results. Curator Les Burdett does an outstanding job to make the Adelaide Oval pitch overall one of the finest Test match wickets in Australia and indeed around the world.

Rated as one of the most picturesque grounds in the world, the venue itself is a delight. In beautiful leafy surroundings and with a capacity of approximately 30, 000, the Adelaide Oval is a visual delight and its spectators are for the most part knowledgeable and appreciative. The boisterous element resides on what is referred to locally as "the hill", a grassy embankment beneath the giant scoreboard and close to the bar. With so many scoreboards now electronic, the historic one retained at the Adelaide Oval is an attraction in itself, providing a wealth of information that is distinct and easy to read.

The playing area itself is shaped like a true oval, with short square boundaries inviting to those batsmen who are strong square of the wicket, and with the straight boundaries which are possibly the longest in the world. With dimensions which read 191 x 127 metres, all-run fours down the ground are a regular occurrence.

At the southern end directly behind the wicket lies the Sir Donald Bradman Stand, at the top of which are the media and corporate boxes. To the west is the public Sir Edwin Smith stand and further along are the George Giffen and Mostyn Evan stands, which are in the members enclosure. It is from this pavilion at mid wicket where the players descend the steps to make their way onto the immaculate turf. To the eastern side of the Bradman Stand is the southern mound, while square of the wicket on that side of the ground is a relatively new, eastern stand open to the sun. Over to the north-east one can see the charming St Peter's Cathedral and the tolling of the bells, sounding as lovely as a waterfall, can occasionally be heard.

The annual Test match is, of course, the highlight of the year for Adelaide Oval patrons. Traditionally, the Test has been held across the Australia Day long weekend at the end of January, but with the implementation last season of the divide between the Test series and one-dayers, the Test is now held in December. That move, while understandable because the Test matches and limited-overs games are now in separate blocks, raised the ire of South Australian cricket fans because Melbourne and Sydney were allowed to retain their traditional Boxing Day and New Year's dates while our established fixture was given scant consideration.

In 1997, Adelaide Oval became the first cricket venue in the world to use retractable light towers. These were installed to preserve the scenic beauty of the area, but after a long-running and acrimonious saga concerning the construction and safety of the towers, fixed towers are now to be instituted.

India, which has unfortunately not agreed to the use of artificial lighting to make up for any lost time during the Test series, will experience day-night cricket in Adelaide when it plays back-to-back matches here in the Carlton and United series against Pakistan and Australia on January 25 and 26 respectively. With a flat pitch and long boundaries roped in, Adelaide Oval is the ideal venue for high-scoring one-day matches.

As a peaceful place to both play and watch cricket, India should love it.

Statistics: Test Records