Four years on from the controversial second Test between Australia and India, during which tensions reached an all-time high as a result of poor umpiring, debatable catches, excessive appealing and the ugly 'Monkeygate' row, the two teams return to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the second Test of the ongoing series. With Australia up 1-0 in the series following a resounding win in Melbourne, the advantage lies with the hosts and whether India manage to rally and level the series remains the focal point. That this will be the 100th Test at the hallowed SCG only adds to the significance of this match.
Australia will come into this Test with a massive psychological advantage. Before the start of the Boxing Day Test they appeared a side in disarray, with injuries to first-choice players and plenty of pressure over the form of veterans Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey threatening to hamper their performance. Instead, Ponting and Hussey contributed crucial innings and the bowlers, led by a rookie in James Pattinson and a rehabilitated Ben Hilfenhaus, turned in an outstanding spell to pummel India by 122 runs.
India were let down by their experienced batsmen. Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar made half-centuries in the first innings but a dramatic collapse of 8 for 68, beginning with Tendulkar's dismissal for 73 on the second evening, saw their hopes of taking a lead squandered emphatically. Then, chasing 292, the batting imploded with Tendulkar's 32 the highest score in a meek capitulation.
India need their batsmen to stand up, and on the basis of the nature of the SCG track it appears they can take some comfort. The pitch is supposed to be more batsmen-friendly than the MCG's, with spin also coming to the fore. But perhaps more than current reading, India’s past exploits at the venue could give them inspiration. Tendulkar has enjoyed batting at the SCG – in four Tests he has scored 148*, 45, 4, 241*, 60*, 154* and 12 – while VVS Laxman has scored centuries in each of his three visits to Sydney. As the visitors aim to level the series, contributions from Tendulkar – still in search of his 100th international hundred - and Laxman would be pivotal.
It is unlikely India will press the panic button and drop Virat Kohli, who managed 11 and 0 at the MCG, from their line-up. But, as his middle-order competitor Rohit Sharma said over the weekend, the team was confident of bouncing back at the SCG. "You look at the past record, what we've done in Sydney, it's tremendous, whether it's one-day cricket or Test cricket," he said. "Individual players have performed really well. Hopefully Sydney turns out lucky again for us in this Test match."
India will need more than luck to beat a charged-up Australia. Their fast bowlers, especially Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, did well at the MCG and a repeat performance would not go amiss. Getting more out of Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin, who was disappointing in Australia's second innings in Melbourne, is tantamount to India’s success.
Australia’s selectors included Ryan Harris in their 12-man squad for the SCG, at the expense of Daniel Christian and Mitchell Starc, but he will not feature in this Test as the management opted for an unchanged XI. With the SCG pitch expected to assist spin more than during the first Test, Australia coach Mickey Arthur has singled out offspinner Nathan Lyon as a key player on a pitch which traditionally takes turn later in the match.
"There's absolutely no doubt that they [India] will try and go him," Arthur said. "Nathan is a pretty skilful offspinner so I reckon that will develop into the very interesting contest. We're going to get a lot of overs out of Nathan if it's a typical SCG wicket and I've got full confidence in his ability to tie India down and, in the second innings, strike for us. I think it could be (a pivotal contest) providing we get enough runs on the board. If we have runs on the board Nathan becomes a very interesting prospect for us."
The SCG pitch has offered plenty of early seam movement in the past two years. However, apart from the last Ashes, when James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan shared 16 wickets between them, spinners have had a significant impact. A year before that, Pakistan's seamers took all 10 Australian first-innings wickets but legspinner Danesh Kaneria and Australia's offspinner Nathan Hauritz took five wickets apiece in the second innings.
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Ed Cowan, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav.