Melbourne pitch may suit Indians

Dravid will almost certainly open the innings for India in the traditional Boxing Day Test against Australia.

updated: December 25, 2007 14:40 IST
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Rahul Dravid will almost certainly open the innings for India in the traditional Boxing Day Test against Australia, the first of the four-Test series Down Under.

VVS Laxman is likely to bat at Dravid's one-drop position with Yuvraj Singh coming in at number six.

Asking Laxman to bat at number three could be a gamble, but the reshuffle could bring the aggressive Yuvraj and Mahendra Dhoni to face the tiring bowlers and an older ball.

The bowling is expected to be shouldered by skipper Anil Kumble, with either three seamers or two such bowlers and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh supplementing him.

The curator Tony Ware is craving for at least one day's uninterrupted preparations to avoid an under-cooked track. The match itself may escape without serious stoppages, but the second and third days are forecast to be cloudy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, pitches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the world's biggest and oldest Test venue, got lower - and more unplayable from a batting standpoint - as matches progressed. India, on one such pitch in 1981, beat a full strength Australian side for the first time Down Under.

Four years ago, India allowed the Aussies to draw level at the ground, after taking the lead at Adelaide.

This season, the square has tended to favour batsmen in domestic competitions, though left-arm wrist spinner Brad Hogg has reaped some benefit.

India's tantalising showing in 2003-04 was in the absence of the unerring Glenn McGrath. He may now have retired, but the New South Wales express Brett Lee has taken over at top gear.

Mitchell Johnson, left-arm, also moves the ball both ways at high pace. They, together with Stuart Clark and Shaun Tait - if all four play - will pose a torrid test.

But such a quartet will either have to bowl their overs with exhausting rapidity or invite penalties for a poor over-rate. It will be interesting to see if Australia abandon their age-old policy of a balanced attack.

The Indian board has virtually condemned Kumble and his side by giving them only a solitary practice game, which, too, was washed out. This, before taking on the world champions!

Indian cricketers' inspiration is derived from an indefinable people-player partnership (PPP).

The devotion and expectation of Indian supporters, pride in one's performance and extraordinary reward for success, instil a sense of purpose in the players. It will soon be revealed if the PPP is enough to contain Australia.

Vitally, can the Indian batsmen, having barely overcome jet lag, hold their own without acclimatisation to the potential pace, bounce and movement?

If the character of the MCG wicket remains the way it has been this season - in other words, slow and not dissimilar to Indian surfaces - this could reduce the adjustment demanded from the visiting batsmen.

India's bowling has been weakened by the unavailability of Sreesanth, India's best bowler in comparable South African conditions last winter, and the mysterious fade out of Munaf Patel.

But the visiting leather merchants are no less experienced than the unit last time around, when a dream performance by Ajit Agarkar shocked the hosts at Adelaide.

Indeed, Kumble should continue to be a handful. But the quicker bowlers have to make an impact if India are to curb the Bradmanesque propensities of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.