India face pacy test on Gabba green top

Cricket Second Test: Starc, Hazlehood to join Johnson in Aussie attack

India face pacy test on Gabba green top

The Gabba, Shane Warne suggested the other day, is the new Perth of Australia.

Perth, the so-called fastest cricket pitch in the world, has ceded its pride of place as the fast bowlers’ paradise to the Queensland venue where Australia haven’t lost a single match of their last 25 Tests, winning a staggering 17 of them. Their last defeat here came at the hands of Sir Viv Richards-led West Indies that had the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

Brisbane has traditionally hosted the first Test of the summer and it’s here that the Australian pacers put the fear of god in opposition batsmen; the psychological scars, more often than not, affecting their game throughout the series.

Having lost three Ashes series on the trot to England from 2009, Australia regained the urn last year by wiping away their traditional foes 5-0 and the genesis of their triumph, which also coincided with Mitchell Johnson’s resurgence as the most fearsome fast bowler in the world, lay at this venue. Johnson blasted his way to nine wickets for the match and Australia crushed England by 381 runs.

The unfortunate demise of Phillip Hughes, however, forced Cricket Australia to tweak the schedule of the series, as a result of which the first Test was moved to Adelaide from Brisbane. Was it a blessing in disguise? The evidence so far suggests so. The pace and bounce that were at a premium in the drop-in surface for the first Test will be in abundance here where the second Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy begins from Wednesday.

The slow nature of the wicket at the Adelaide Oval, somewhat blunted Australia’s pacemen and the Indian batsmen thrived in conditions that were closer home, though they lost the match. This is not to undermine the way stand-in skipper Virat Kohli and his team-mates performed.

No praise can be too high for the manner in which they approached the challenge, matching their pre-Test talk with a solid show. But their real test will come now, although India did manage to draw their last outing here. India do come into the Gabba down 0-1 in the four-Test series but the fare they put out at Adelaide should hold them in good stead.

The conditions will be much more hostile and the pace unit will have two bowlers who can match Johnson for speed. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlehood have replaced an injured Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle in the playing 11 that will be led by Steven Smith in the absence of Michael Clarke.

Shaun Marsh will take Clarke’s place in the side but will bat at number five with Smith opting to promote himself up. Marsh, son of former Australian batsman Geoff Marsh, will join his younger sibling Mitchell, in the side.    

India too will have a new captain with a fit-again MS Dhoni set to take up the mantle from Kohli. The visitors, who missed the plot by dropping R Ashwin in the first Test, will most likely bring the off-spinner back in place of leggie Karn Sharma.

It remains to be seen if Umesh Yadav finds a place as a fourth seamer at the cost of a batsman, which will be Rohit Sharma, or replaces one of Mohammad Shami and Varun Aaron.

The four-pronged pace attack may not be bad idea especially if Ashwin, who can provide the team with some buffer at the lower order, makes the final cut.

The trick also lay in making optimum use of the favourable conditions and not get carried away by them. While he did work up some serious pace, Aaron was too erratic in Adelaide and the likes of David Warner or Smith aren’t going to let him go unpunished. Speed thrills but speed without control often leads to disaster. The right lines and lengths will be crucial on this surface.

Kohli’s batting will be the key again for India to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Australia but openers will have critical job here. They will have to see off the new ball because exposing the middle-order early can be catastrophic.

Brisbane facts

Australia vs India Tests

* Head to head: Played: 5. Australia won: 4. Draw: 1.

*  Australia:

Best bowling figures: Ernie Toshack 6-29 (1947/48).

* Highest individual score: Sir Donald Bradman 185 (1947/48)

* Highest team total: 382/8 decl (1947/48). Lowest Team total: 166 all out (1977/78).

* India:

* Best bowling figures: 6-104 E A S Prasanna (1967/68).

*Highest individual score: Sourav Ganguly 144 (2003).

* Highest team total: 409 (2003).

* Lowest total: 58 all out (1947/48).

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