India-Australia battle field shifts to Mohali

Published: Thursday, October 16, 2008, 14:26 [IST]
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Zaheer-PontingMohali: Odds are even as confident India takes on resurgent Australia in the second cricket Test starting here from tomorrow.

The first Test in Bengaluru clearly showed that this is going to be a series of attrition and even minor initiative shifts could well prove decisive.

At the end of the Test, pace spearhead Zaheer Khan said he never imagined that Australia will adopt such defensive tactics. He had a point that Ricky Ponting's bowlers could not dislodge him and Harbhajan as India battled towards the Australian first innings total of 430.

Ponting does not have the bowling firepower to take 20 Indian wickets.

Conditions here, however, are very different. For one, it is a lot cooler, stormy weather over the last two days bringing temperatures down, and the pitch will be quite unlike the one for the first Test.

Mohali may not exactly be a ''result'' venue, but with both sides likely to bank heavily on pace, it's reputation as a ground for high-scoring draws could change.

Interestingly, this is one venue these two contestants have never faced off in a Test match. Of the seven prior five-day games played here, India have faced the West Indies (in a losing cause), Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England and Pakistan, and their only two wins have come over England.

Such was the backlash after the 243-run defeat to the Windies in the maiden Test back in 1994 that radical changes were made and the track tamed into a more ''suitable'' one for the home side. The problem is, India have never really discovered the winning formula here save in the wins over England, the last one coming in March 2006 in the form of a 10-wicket victory.

That, as cricketers are so often apt to point out, is in the past. ''Tomorrow is a new day'' is a favoured maxim among those donning the whites and in that sense, even the first Test is now history. But there were significant pointers to be had from Bengaluru, some of which will come into play here.

Most importantly, Australia have continued to use the formula that fetched them a rare series victory in 2004 of playing a much more patient brand of cricket. Ponting's field settings at Bengaluru were a clear pointer, as was the pace of scoring in both Aussie innings. Clearly lessons of the past have been taken to heart.

Just approach alone is not quite good enough. It needs the right personnel to implement. Australia have the ability with the bat, but as the first Test showed, they may not quite have it the ball.

Despite the ever-widening cracks at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Australia just did not enough muscle with the ball to close the game out with India staring down the barrel.

Even a year ago, it is difficult to imagine an Aussie side letting the opposition off the mat quite so easily. And with Stuart Clarke battling a sore shoulder, Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen have some serious thinking to do, as backup seamers Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger did not quite stake their claims at the tour opener in Hyderabad.

For India, the only real talking point is whether or not Anil Kumble will play. The captain finds himself under the hammer this time, the focus of debate having shifted away from his ''ageing'' middle order after their match-saving displays in Bengaluru, after his first-ever wicketless match haul in the first Test. Adding fuel to the debate

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