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Boxing Day of reckoning as India face 'weakened' Oz Test

Just as well. Two teams that have faced enough turbulence over the past six months will look to deliver the first telling blow of what promises to be a fascinating series when India and Australia square off in the Boxing Day Test tomorrow. Rohit Bhaskar reports. Can India beat Oz on home turf? | Match reckoner

india Updated: Dec 26, 2011 02:03 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar

Rahul-Sharma-during-the-net-practice-at-the-TNCA-Chepauk-Stadium-in-Chennai-HT-Photo-Vipin-Kumar

Dark clouds hung ominously over the Melbourne skyline on Christmas Day. Just as well. Two teams that have faced enough turbulence over the past six months will look to deliver the first telling blow of what promises to be a fascinating series when India and Australia square off in the Boxing Day Test on Monday.

The hosts, the dominant team for a better part of the last 15 years, are now in transition. With each passing summer the greats have gone into the sunset, the replacements not readily available. Shane Warne will still be there, only in bronze though. He and Glenn McGrath retired in 2007, as did Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist a year later. Matthew Hayden in 2009, and now, the man who perhaps came to epitomise that era of Aussie dominance - Ricky Ponting, sits on the edge.

Punter's last stand?
The numbers are there for all to see. Since his 39th Test century, a double ton against Pakistan at the Bellerive Oval, Ponting has played 16 Tests and averaged 27.48. In his pomp, Ponting's average hovered close to an otherworldly 60, an extended spell of failures over the past few seasons has seen it slide to a more mortal 52.29.

In fact, many feel the only reason he's still managed to hang on to his spot is that none of the newcomers have been able to take their opportunity. On Monday, Ed Cowan will become the 10th Australian to make his debut this year, a number unthinkable in the time of Aussie dominance.

New Faces

The last time so many newcomers earned their Baggy Greens was in 1977 when Kerry Packer revolutionised the game with his World Series Cricket and took the best the game had to offer with him. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/26-12-pg-01a.jpg

Cowan, unlike others handed their chance, seems to possess a firm head over his shoulders. Two-Test old David Warner will give him company in one of the most inexperienced opening line-up Australia have put out since Charles Bannerman and Nat Robinson opened against England at the MCG slightly under a century and half back.

If Australia bat first, the opening duo will hold the key in avoiding a second successive Boxing Day debacle. Last summer, James Anderson & Co ripped through the Aussie line-up for a meagre 98 en route a crushing innings victory.

Since then, their fallibility against the moving ball has been exposed by both South Africa (who shot them out for 47, at a time having the Aussies at an unbelievable 21/9) and most recently, New Zealand, who recorded their first win over the Trans-Tasman rivals in 18 years.

First Test blues
The one thing that can work in Australia's favour is India's reputation as poor starters on foreign tours, having won just two and lost five of their opening Tests in the last seven tours.

While India have generally fared better after the first Test blues, the memories of England are still fresh and forced MS Dhoni to resort to Murphy's Law. "Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong."

Much has been written about the fitness of frontline pacers Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. India's hopes literally rest on their ankles, as much as they may be metaphorically burdened on their shoulders.

Match reckoner