Published in Indian Express on 30th September 2010

The two Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy gets under way at Mohali on Friday with the mouth watering prospect of a clash between two of the strongest sides in the world.

Even though the Australians are officially ranked number 4 in the world by ICC as against India’s number 1 position, it is no secret that despite the retirement of several senior players, they are a formidable side even today.

The key to the series may lie in the contest between the powerful Indian batting line up and the Aussie bowling. While spinners Nathan Hauritz and Steve Smith are unlikely to give sleepless nights to the Indian batting armada, the pace attack of Michael Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger may prove to be more penetrative. Indian pitches have never been a bed of roses for pace bowlers but Mohali and Bangalore, the venues for the two Tests, are two of the most sporting wickets in the land.

One needs no real expertise to deduce the fact that India’s strength lies in their batting. With the retirement of Saurav Ganguly, the number 6 slot has now been filled by the sparkling Suresh Raina, while the rest of the batting order has been around for years and is like a top musical band which gets better with age.

Virender Sehwag is a batsman in the Vivian Richards mould now, with the capacity to pulverise the opposition. Gautam Gambhir, though coming off an injury, is an able opening partner for Sehwag, and may return to his high-scoring ways very soon. Rahul Dravid was off colour in the recent Test series held in Sri Lanka, and is due for some big innings too.

Sachin Tendulkar, with 5 centuries in his last 7 Test matches, is in the form of his life, and that takes some doing for him! VVS Laxman played another brilliant match-winning knock in the crucial 3rd Test against Sri Lanka. The dynamic MS Dhoni at number 7 provides the icing on the cake.

The ability of the Indian batting to dominate the Australian bowling would be the key to the series. The reverse combination is also important, but India does not seem to possess adequate resources to bowl out the Aussies, unless India’s batting piles up huge scores to put pressure on Ricky Ponting and co.

Shane Watson and Simon Katich form a pair of openers who are also in the Sehwag-Gambhir mould. While Watson is the dasher with the ability to play a long innings, Katich is a gritty batter with immense concentration and skill.

Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Marcus North form the impressive Aussie middle order, with the two Michaels being excellent players of spin bowling too. The skipper would be keen to notch up a ton or two, to inch closer to Tendulkar in the all time list; else the latter may just surge ahead, out of his reach!

Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh have had fitness problems of late but remain India’s key bowlers. The wily offie would relish bowling against the team from down under on his home ground.

All in all, a clash of the titans is in the offing. Make no mistake, this is the real thing!