Massive clash at MCG: Ian Chappell
Skippers Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni will get a kick out of the Boxing Day atmosphere just like their teammatesSkippers Michael Clarke and MS Dhoni will get a kick out of the Boxing Day atmosphere just like their teammates
The atmosphere at the MCG for a Boxing Day Test often resembles that of the crowds baying for blood in the Christians versus Lions contests of the Roman Empire.
The problem for India will not be the effect this has on the batsmen (who've mostly heard it all before) but on the bowlers who have a paltry five Test wickets between them at the MCG. Zaheer Khan is the bowler who has taken all five of those wickets and none of the others have previously set foot on the MCG in a Test match.
The MCG crowd see themselves as Australia's Twelfthman. They believe they can make a difference in the game by encouraging the locals and harassing the visitors. They'll feel even more inclined to "get involved" in this match, as both James Pattinson and Peter Siddle are Victorians. This could be a help to Australia as fast bowlers can be lifted by a raucously positive crowd, whereas batsmen are trying to cocoon themselves from the noise.
India can quickly neutralise the crowd if Virender Sehwag repeats his 2003-04 performance when he pulverised the Australian attack in scoring 195 on the opening day. If Sehwag replicates that innings there'll be very little for the MCG crowd to shout about as it would probably involve the dismantling of both Pattinson and Siddle.
This will be one of the intriguing battles of the series -- Pattinson versus Sehwag. Pattinson has mostly experienced success so far in Test cricket and only has about two overs experience of watching the ball whistle to the boundary when Brendan McCullum attacked him at the Gabba. How he'll handle a more ferocious and prolonged attack from Sehwag will tell a lot about his character.
Pattinson has a couple of things in his favour; he swings the ball out, which troubles Sehwag and his captain won't be cowered into a containment strategy. The one thing you know about Sehwag; he won't be affected by any boisterous behaviour from the crowd.
If Sehwag fires, this will make the rest of India's much-vaunted batting line-up much more dangerous. As long as Sachin Tendulkar doesn't become all consumed by his search for the elusive 100th century, he and V V S Laxman are the type of stroke makers who could take full advantage of a Sehwag onslaught.
Amassing a decent total shouldn't be India's major concern -- taking twenty wickets is the more difficult part. The opportunity is there to strike early with an inconsistent Australian batting line-up also containing a debutant opener in Ed Cowan. If Zaheer swings the new ball, he has an opportunity to trouble the heavily left-handed top order and re-open wounds that haven't had time to heal since the Bellerive loss to New Zealand.
The first Test is fascinatingly difficult to predict but India badly need Sehwag and Zaheer to start well. If they don't, the Indian team will feel like they're at the Coliseum with a pride of Lions stalking them, egged on by a baying crowd.