An India v Australia encounter on the cricketing field forces one to remember the legion of greats who were part of this rivalry and a couple of great series between the two teams. But this time around, it is not about the greats.
There is no Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, VVS Laxman or Michael Hussey. Of the old guard, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh remain. For Australia, Michael Clarke will have huge responsibility of steering the inexperienced Australian batting line-up. The India A tweakers have already exposed the Australians' vulnerability in handling spin whereas India have their own worries over an unsettled bowling attack.
Both the teams are in transition but Australia look a far more settled unit but inexperienced against an Indian setup refusing to take that extra step to complete the transition. Some say India will have a landslide victory but Australia might not go down meekly and could spring up a surprise or two.
Ahead of the much-awaited contest, here is a look at a few key battles that could shape up to series highlights.
India's spinners v Australia's middle order
The most obvious of them all - Harbhajan has already sounded the bugle with his "We'll show them how we play cricket in India" comment and by the looks of it the Australians will be troubled by the slow stuff. The India A spinners, Rakesh Dhurv and Jalaj Saxena, took 11 off the 14 Aussie wickets to fall in the three-day warm-up in Chennai. Contrastingly, Xavier Doherty and Ashton Agar got three wickets each but were hammered around the park.
Off the top five in the Australian lineup, Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja are touring India for the first time and none of them have any great reputation of handling spin. After being outclassed by their English counterparts a couple of months back, the Indian spinners will be looking to get back into the groove and with the pitches expected to favour spin, Clarke will need to emulate his 2012 form and hope the ultra-aggressive David Warner gets them off to a good start. Opening with Shane Watson might be a good option for the Australians.
Australia's top order v India's pace attack
The Indian pace bowling department is in a sorry state of affairs with injuries and strike bowlers out of form. Ishant Sharma had made his career against the Australians in Australia five years ago and will now be spearheading the attack with the uncapped Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda for company. This is where the Australians can take an upper hand over the hosts. Warner and Watson are class players and they might even do well against the spin, but, against the Indian pacers a good start is imperative. Warner has elevated himself to the next level by learning to build an innings after explosive starts, and similar to Sehwag, if he gets going on flat Indian tracks, it will be hard to catch up with him.
Sehwag vs Mitchell Starc
This is a make or break series for Sehwag. With just a solitary Test century since 2010 the 34-year-old is very lucky to still be in the team and how he copes with the talented left-arm swing of Starc could prove crucial to India's success. Starc gets the ball to move back in at pace and Sehwag has got out to in-swinging deliveries more often than not in his career. Sehwag likes to cut and Starc would be wary of providing the swashbuckling opener with any width. India's bane has been a lack of strong opening stands and with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan getting runs in domestic competitions India will be looking at long-term prospects. Time is ticking for Sehwag.
Nathan Lyon v India's middle order
The offspinner Lyon is good, but he is no Shane Warne. Graeme Swann is good and he proved it. For Lyon, Swann would be the inspiration, persistence the weapon. The build-up to the series has not featured talk of Lyon, but going by what Swann and Monty Panesar did to India, undermining the 25-year-old would be a mistake. Even Jason Krejza was looked at as nobody when he debuted in India in 2008-09, but the offie picked up 12 wickets in his maiden Test though he was hammered for a lot. India's middle-order comprising Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni will relish someone like Lyon but the offspinner can pack a punch or two as well, as evident by his success in Sri Lanka two seasons ago.
Australia's pacers v India's top order
Taking Peter Siddle, Starc, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and even Moises Henriques to India clearly underlines the strategy with which Australia are coming into the series. They are not bothered about the conditions but are gambling on a win with their strengths. To win a Test match, a team has to take 20 wickets. If the Indian spinners can, the Australian pacers are equally equipped as well. This bowling line-up is very close to what Australia had in 2004 with Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz supported by Warne.
They would have also taken a cue from how England pacers James Anderson and Steven Finn bowled up front and later with the old ball. Even Tim Southee was impressive against the Indians when New Zealand toured India in 2012. Led by the 'rock' Siddle, Australia's bowling unit is far superior than India's and if they can overcome the conditions they can very well wreak havoc. Pattinson would be a tough costumer to deal with and whatever little has been seen of Bird indicates that he can very well fit into the role of second-choice seamer in the series, toiling all day long like Kasprowicz was able to in the 2004-05 series.
Ravindra Jadeja v Moises Henriques & Matthew Wade
The battle of utility players would be interesting to watch and they could also prove to be a big difference in winning or losing. Jadeja looks a certainty in the playing XI and his bowling is much more than what could be termed as part-time. On a crumbling and turning track Jadeja would be equally potent as the frontline spinners. Henriques has been preferred to Glenn Maxwell for the first Test and will be tested by spin. Wade's inclusion was questioned by many with the likes of Brad Haddin and Tim Paine in the fray but the Tasmanian gives the visitors an extra dimension of being a hard-hitter at No. 6 akin to a certain Adam Gilchrist.
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