For the first time in ages, Australia have struggled to assemble a squad of 13 – that the selectors have named an extra man indicates the current scenario – for the start of a home Test series. Injuries have played a major role, and the choices are few and far between as Australia aim to come up with the ideal playing XI against India. With Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja dropped, a new look top-order awaits the visitors at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Monday.
Here is a look at the playing XI that Australia are likely to field for the first Test of the series.
David Warner: The 25-year old from New South Wales destroyed all myths about his branding as a Twenty20 specialist by blazing away to a brilliant century in the second Test against New Zealand in Hobart, which very nearly proved to be a match-winning innings.
Warner, who has the ability to take the game away from the opposition right from the word go because of his attacking style of play, could be a lethal proposition at the top of the order if he gets going.
The Kiwis found that out at the Bellerive Oval, where he carried his bat in an innings of 123* as the Aussies lost by a mere seven runs.
Ed Cowan: With Hughes woefully out of form, Cowan was almost an automatic inclusion for the series opener at the MCG, after his hundred against the Indians for Cricket Australia Chairman's XI side in the warm-up match preceding the Boxing day Test.
Having made his first-class debut for New South Wales in 2003, the left-handed opener has been enjoying a purple patch of late which included a century (145) against the New Zealanders for Australia A.
Ricky Ponting: Arguably the most controversial selection for the MCG Test, Ponting was paid the ultimate compliment by former Australian legspinner Stuart MacGill, who regarded the Tasmanian as the greatest batsman from the country after the legendary Don Bradman. The figures speak for themselves and with 12,656 Test runs at an average of 52.29 and 39 centuries against his name, Ponting could still be a force to reckon with even in the twilight of his career.
The Indians will be looking to get rid of the former Aussie skipper early on in his innings, which is when he has been most vulnerable of late.
Michael Clarke: Having succeeded Ponting as captain of the Australian team after the World Cup this year, Clarke will be looking to lead by example in the upcoming Test series which is said to be his sternest test till now.
The team will be encouraged by his ability to convert starts into big centuries which was on view during the Brisbane Test against New Zealand where he made 139, and in the series prior to that against South Africa when he smashed 151 in the first Test at Newlands.
With 17 centuries in 76 Tests, Clarke will undoubtedly be the pillar of strength for the team.
Michael Hussey: The 36-year old flopped in the series against New Zealand as well as the Tests against South Africa, and could turn out to be one of the weak links for the Boxing Day Test. However, the flip side of the coin indicates that he could also be an asset because of the experience factor in a largely inexperienced outfit. And Hussey has a penchant for producing gritty innings when the forces seem to be conspiring against him.
Daniel Christian: Aged 28, Christian has played just three times for Australia - that too in the T20 format – but could in fact play his part at the MCG just to maintain the balance in the side. With allrounder Shane Watson out injured, Christian could be used in the side to provide an extra batting as well as bowling option.
Brad Haddin: Having taken over from the great Adam Gilchrist as the wicketkeeper-batsman of the side, Haddin has been a faithful servant of the Baggy Green over the years, and while nowhere near the class of his predecessor, has churned out useful performances for his team with the bat apart from going about his duties with the gloves. However, of late he has been criticized for his rash dismissals and there have been calls in Australia to replace him with Victoria’s Matthew Wade. While Haddin appears safe for the moment – he is also an integral member of the side as Clarke’s deputy – there will be plenty riding on his success at the MCG.
Peter Siddle: The Victorian has been a consistent contributor to the team’s cause and will have a major role to play in their pace attack in the absence of young sensation Pat Cummins, and left-arm speedster Mitchell Johnson.
Siddle is also by no means a bunny with the bat and has a highest score of 43 in the five-day format.
James Pattinson: With back-to-back five-wicket hauls against New Zealand, the youngster could be portrayed as the strike-bowler for the first Test against India, and the one that the visitors should watch out for considering their reputation of handling the short and fast stuff.
Mitchell Starc: Another of those promising fast bowlers that the Australians will be depending on to deliver the goods in the opening Test against India and the rest of the series thereafter.
The left-armer who made his debut in the recently concluded Test series against New Zealand could not have asked for on a bigger stage to perform early on in his career. Faces stiff competition from swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus, who has played 17 Tests, but could get the nod with the selectors keen to infuse youth into the side.
Nathan Lyon: The 24-year old offspinner who made a dream debut against Sri Lanka picking up his maiden five-wicket haul on debut earlier this year, has an impressive record in his Test career thus far which is as of now only seven matches old.
With 22 wickets, at an average of 24.59, Lyon will be up against a team which has one of the best records of handling spin, and the task ahead of him could very well turn out to be a daunting one. Indians have known to feast on offspinners, so Lyon will have his task cut out.