Pressure-cooker scenario in Ind-Aust Tests

Published: Sunday, September 26, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:Australia are considered the world's best cricket team but history will be against them when they make yet another attempt to win a Test series in India and conquer their Last Frontier.

The run-up to the India tour was far from encouraging when they lost captain Ricky Ponting through a thumb injury and then suffered a shock defeat against hosts England in the one-day Champions Trophy tournament.

Ponting is expected to return after the opening Test of the four-match series, at Bangalore from October 6, knowing that reputation alone will not help his team taste success in India.

India may be currently struggling to win and are also hit by injuries to key players including star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, but remain a tough team to beat at home.

The spin-friendly pitches, vociferous partisan crowds and the hosts strong batting line-up are expected to test Australia, hoping to win their first Test series in India in 35 years.Pressure is the name of the India-Australia series and the team showing stronger nerves will carry the day.

Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Allan Border and Kim Hughes have all failed to tame India in their own backyard since Bill Lawry led Australia to a Test series triumph in 1969. Waugh came close to doing a Lawry in the three-match rubber in 2001 before being caught in the great Indian spin trick.

His team thrashed the hosts in the opening Test at Bombay and were on the verge of winning the second at Calcutta after enforcing a follow-on -- before failing against off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.

Harbhajan, nicknamed the Turbanator by the Australian media, became the first Indian to take a hat-trick on the way to his 13-wicket show at Calcutta as Australia crashed to a stunning 171-run defeat.

He did better in the decider at Madras, grabbing 15 wickets to lead his team to a memorable series win. Australia, on the face of it, have the weapons to succeed in all conditions. There is more than one potential match-winner -- Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Ponting, when he is fit.

Waugh also had all of them, except Lee, but had to return without success. Hayden showed the way last time, dominating the Indian attack with breathtaking strokes to amass 549 runs in three matches. But Australia will need more than one batsman to win in India.

The tourists will get a heavy dose of spin this time as wily leg-spinner Anil Kumble is set to partner Harbhajan. Kumble, who missed the Test series against Waughs side due to a shoulder injury, is just three wickets short of 400 and a proven match-winner in home conditions.

Australia's lone spinner Warne has yet to produce his best in Indian conditions despite his awesome record in the rest of the world. The leg-spin wizard, six victims short of surpassing Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharans record of 532 Test wickets, has so far bagged just 20 wickets in six Tests in India at the unimpressive average of 52.25.

Australia's fast bowlers will have to contend with unfavourable pitches, where batsmen hardly face any "chin music". McGrath, Lee, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz face a tough task of unsettling the Indian batsmen in these conditions.

India may be missing Tendulkar through a tennis elbow injury, but still have the batsmen to make the Australian bowlers toil for success. Rahul Dravid, named "Player of the Year" and "Test Player of the Year" by an expert panel in England earlier this month, is in tremendous form after compiling 1,241 runs in nine Tests last season.

He is followed by skipper Sourav Ganguly and Venkatsai Laxman, who has been rated highly by Australians for his batting. India, without injured pacemen Zaheer Khan and Laxmipathy Balaji, will bank on their spin-twins and a pair of new-ball bowlers, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan.

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