A walk around the WACA ground is enough to leave a newcomer awestruck. It's not as old as the MCG, SCG, Gabba or Adelaide Oval as a Test match venue, but ever since hosting its first five-day international match in 1970, it has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the home team. It's appropriate that Australia's quest for an unprecedented 17th straight win begins at a place where they will unleash their pace quartet on a team teeming with batting talent, but searching for the right combination.
History offers little cheer for the Indians as they lost on both their previous appearances here. And coming off two setbacks in the ongoing series, only a win can keep them on track if they are to salvage pride and prove a few other points that have become important after the acrimony in Sydney. These are desperate times and in keeping with that, Anil Kumble is ready to take a few desperate steps.
With Australia set to unleash Shaun Tait alongside Brett Lee for the first time in the series, India too have decided to fight fire with fire. In fact, this will be the first time after the 1991-92 India-Australia Test in Perth that Australia will play four pacemen at home. So, in comes Virender Sehwag after nearly a year in the wilderness on a wicket that will offer pace and bounce. That will send Rahul Dravid back to his favourite No. 3 slot and push V.V.S. Laxman to No. 6 in place of Yuvraj Singh. Harbhajan Singh will make way for the third quick that is if you call Irfan Pathan one. After having experienced enough of it on and off the field over the last week or so, Kumble asserted there would again be a round of mind games. “The wicket will be fast and bouncy, but we have the quality in batting to handle that. It's a question of adjustment in the mind than in the middle.”
Ultimately, it will come down to what they do in the middle and Ricky Ponting promised some hostility there. “Lee and Tait will be our impact bowlers. Tait has been waiting in the wings for a while and it's exciting for any captain to have the two going at the opposition.” Ponting had used Tait in short bursts with telling effect in the World Cup and the youngster was menacing with the old and new ball. “He's quite a wicket-taking machine, always gets you two to three wickets whenever you toss the ball to him.
India don't have that kind of firepower because V.R.V. Singh and Pankaj Singh, expected to exploit the hardness of the surface by hitting the deck, haven’t impressed the captain. V.R.V. generated a lot of steam under a testing sun at the nets on Tuesday, although he is unlikely to make the cut. R.P. Singh looked sharp and will lead the pace pack comprising Ishant Sharma and Pathan, who was ordinary in the three-day game in Canberra last week.
Ganguly fit, Hayden out
The good news in the Indian camp was the recovery of Sourav Ganguly, who had skipped practice a day earlier due to fever. Kumble said he was a lot better and expected him to play. Australia had a disappointment on that front when Matthew Hayden was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Chris Rogers, who scored 60 against India in Canberra, will replace him and make his debut at 31. With individual and collective goals to pursue on a surface that promises excitement aplenty, the third Test seems to have brought the focus back on cricket. It has taken time, but it's better late than never, just like the return of bounce at the WACA after a few years. It's up to the Indians to show they are up to it.