Resurgent India out to stop Aussie Juggernaut

Published: Monday, December 24, 2007, 12:37 [IST]
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Sydney: Australia are surfing the wave of another long winning run and targeting their 15th consecutive Test victory -- one short of their record - against India in the opening Boxing Day cricket Test.

Cricket does not get a more grander stage than the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day on one of the biggest days of the Australian sporting calendar.

India go into the MCG showcase on the back of just 48 overs' batting practice in the rained-out lead-up match against Victoria and will run into an Australian side determined to set the tone for the four-Test series from the first ball.

England were smashed by an innings and 99 runs in last year's Boxing Day Test, South Africa went under by 184 runs in the 2005 MCG match and Australia conquered India by nine wickets in the corresponding Boxing Day Test four years ago.

Australia were last beaten at the MCG by England by 12 runs in a thriller nine years ago. Australia rarely lose at their home of cricket.

Ricky Ponting's team are in the midst of another triumphant run with 14 consecutive victories stretching back two years to their win over South Africa at the MCG.

Australia are just two wins from equalling their run of 16 under former skipper Steve Waugh from October 1999 to February 2001.

Australia's last home series loss was 14 years ago to the West Indies 2-1 and they have been unbeaten in 26 subsequent home series.

India's challenge cannot be more confronting than it is going into the opening match of their series with the world Test champions.

India have won just four Tests in eight Australian tours, but pushed Steve Waugh's Australians all the way in the drawn 1-1 last series tour here in 2003-04.

Yet the tourists are upbeat about their chances on the strength of their impressive recent away record -- Test series victories in the West Indies in 2006 after 35 years and then in England in 2007 after 21 years, under Rahul Dravid.

They have the most experienced middle-order quartet in world cricket with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, weighing in with 32,610 runs gleaned from a total of 442 Tests and with 87 centuries between them.

Ganguly, top-scorer in this month's series against Pakistan with 534 runs in three matches, will make his 100th Test appearance in Melbourne.

"The most important thing is you have to play aggressive cricket against Australia," Laxman said ahead of the Test opener.

"Whenever we've played aggressive cricket against them, we have done well ... you have to play to your potential.

"The moment you give them a slight edge, they'll walk over you, so it's important you just come out and play your natural game of cricket, like we do.

"If you've got a lot of self-belief, I think you'll do well in Australia.

"All the batsmen are supposed to get runs, whenever we've done well abroad, our batting scored huge runs, especially in the first innings," he said.

Laxman averages 52.04 against Australia, considerably above his career average of 44.10.

In 16 Tests against the Aussies he has amassed four centuries, including his highest Test score of 281, and one score in the nineties.

Aussie captain-in-making Michael Clarke also expected the series to be closely fought, particularly with an Indian batting line-up that includes Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.

Middle-order stalwart Rahul Dravid could also be promoted to open to allow Yuvraj Singh to slot into the middle order.

"India has a fantastic batting lineup, all of whom have a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge," Clarke told reporters.

"They're coming off a fantastic win and I think it will set up a great Test series."

Australia's biggest selection worry will be the balance of their bowling attack with Mitchell Johnson or Shaun Tait competing for the third pace bowler position if selectors include left-arm wrist spinner Brad Hogg.

"They (Tait and Johnson) have been bowling very well and it will be a tough decision on either one of them," said Clarke.

"The pitch looks a bit damp ... and has a bit of grass at one end and is a bit bare at the other ... but hopefully we will get some sun on it on Christmas Day that will dry it out.


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