The clash between India and Australia promises to be a classic spin versus pace, experience versus youth battle.
Australia’s great strength is their hit-man squad of fast bowlers and they’ll be confronted by an experienced Indian batting line-up. How the young Australian pace bowlers cope with the conditions will not only play a big part in deciding the series, it could also shape Sachin Tendulkar’s immediate future. A good series might see him carry on in Test cricket, but another poor showing like the lean time he had against England and he may feel it’s time to retire.
Mitchell Starc celebrates during the Hobart Test against Sri Lanka last December. Pic/Getty Images
Australia’s most glaring weaknesses are a frailty when facing good spinners and a dearth of top-class tweakers in their side. If Australia was facing the traditional Indian side, chock full of wily spinners, this would spell trouble but they’ll feel they have a chance against a team still trying to decide on it’s strongest attack. They’ll also be comforted by the success Jimmy Anderson had in the recent series with England.
Anderson is one of the best swing bowlers in the world and Mitchell Starc has had consistent success this summer with late movement into the right-hand batsmen at a lively pace. This is the delivery that most discomforts the highly dangerous Virender Sehwag, like most batsmen, vulnerable to the away swinger early on.
Along with getting the batting order right, choosing a second spinner will be a crucial decision for Australia. They may look to cover two bases by using Glenn Maxwell as a second spinner who can add some valuable middle-order runs. India may choose to attack him from the outset in order to dent one of his great strengths – confidence.
The Australian batting order contains two areas of contention; who will open and where will Michael Clarke bat? Shane Watson’s return to top form in the one-day side suggests he’ll open with the ultra-aggressive David Warner as his partner. That’s Australia’s best combination and it also means the batting order then lines up correctly with Clarke in the number four spot where he’s best suited.
Clarke is the best player of spin in the Australian side and he can’t afford to bat any lower than four, otherwise the Indian spinners could have the upper hand when he arrives at the crease. Also with Watson opening there’s more likelihood he’ll have some runs on the board before he faces the spinners and that makes him a much more dangerous proposition.
That would leave the ungainly but highly effective Phil Hughes at three and open up a spot for Usman Khawaja at five. This will be a big test for Khawaja as he’s a bit leaden footed to start with against spinners but Australia has to unearth some young batsmen, especially in the middle-order.
Australia would prefer to play three fast bowlers and therefore wicket-keeper Matthew Wade will bat at six, with Maxwell coming at seven. Peter Siddle and Starc will be first choice quickies and the other spot will go to either Mitchell Johnson or James Pattinson. If Pattinson is deemed ready for a Test he’ll get the nod but that will leave two bowlers, Siddle being the other one, who haven’t played a long form match for more than a month. If the pitches are raging turners, the other option would be to use medium-fast all-rounder Moises Henriques as a third seamer and play a second front-line spinner in Xavier Doherty.
The type of surfaces provided for this Test series will play a big part in shaping the result and I expect them to favour spin rather than pace. If that’s the case, India will be favourites to win - but only if they’ve mentally recovered from being beaten by England.