The Indian team line-up for the first Test at Melbourne starting on Dec 26, has more or less fallen in place going by the performances in the two warm-up games, though there is cause for concern over match fitness of two key bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. The two may have sent down a few overs in the Canberra games, but Test match is a different ball game.
The other debate would be about the choice between Rohit Sharma and Kohli for the middle-order spot behind Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Sachin and Laxman and ahead of Dhoni. While Ashwin is more or less certain to play on the back of the four-wicket haul in Canberra, the selectors will have to decide whether or not to include a second spinner in Ojha or opt for a three-man pace attack.
Greg Chappell is 'mad', says Sourav Ganguly
Zaheer hasn't played a top level game for a while now while Ishant apparently broke down with a troublesome ankle in the opening two-day game and could bowl just five overs followed by another four in a 30-over knockabout. The other four quick bowlers in contention, Yadav, Aaron and Mithun and Vinay Kumar have barely cut their teeth at the highest level. At least, the four young guns are still not first choices for the Indian eleven.
That being the case, it would be important for India to prioritise criteria for selection with fitness topping the list. It is one thing to play a warm-up game and quite another to be able to last five days and bowl 30 to 50 overs over two innings, at the minimum. It would be interesting to see how the team management will go about and Dhoni will certainly have a crucial role to play.
As regards the choice between Kohli and Rohit, it would be a toss up. Kohli marked his presence with a century in the three-day game, while Rohit had a good outing in the previous warm-up outing. Either way, it will be a tough call, but I would plump for Kohli if only because he adds more value as a fielder than Rohit.
At this point in time, one is not sure about the kind of track that will be rolled out in Melbourne, though the Aussies appear set to hit the Indians with a battery of fast bowlers, although the hosts themselves have problems aplenty to find fit players what with their top all-rounder Watson doubtful for the Test.
Meanwhile, the mind games are in full games and that is to be expected as the Aussies are past masters at playing on the opponents, using the Media to the hilt to float stories and theories that an experienced pro would dismiss as a load of rubbish.
I want to be the factor which makes the difference: Zaheer Khan
However, of bigger concern is the Ganguly's remarks over Dravid that I feel are ill-timed even if there is more than an iota of truth in them. In fact, I am surprised that there is so much acrimony over an incident that is history. Obviously, Ganguly is still nursing some grudges and is not about to let bygones be bygones. After all, the more of such talk, the more likely that it will re-open old wounds.
Likewise, it is disgusting that someone of Greg Chappell's stature should carry on and on about his tenure as India coach when a lot of water has flown under the bridge. I am not sure what Chappell would gain by keep looking back at a period when he turned Indian team on its head with his own theories that did not go down well with a majority of players.
And Ganguly has fallen for the bait by launching a tirade not just against Greg but also his former team-mate Dravid on the eve of a major tour. Perhaps, Ganguly should show as much maturity as he expects from other grown men. After all, even a million words will not alter or impact the past, but will only serve to show up the class of persons who keep indulging in a verbal spat.
Dravid may or may not have been guilty of not standing by his mates during Greg's tenure, but at least, he emphatically showed that he is not just a great cricketer but also a man of letters, going by his splendid speech at the Bradman's Oration.
Though I agree with his views on BCCI's focus on commerce rather than cricket by packing in some ''meaningless'' ODIs at the expense of Tests, Dravid would have made more impact had he spoken out when he was part of the one-day squad.
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The scenario in Indian cricket is such that active players are always under threat from an administration that demands subservience and rules the sport with arrogance and insensitivity, while using its financial muscle to get its way. No amount of criticism will shift this behemoth called BCCI that is wedded to autocracy.
Be that as it may, the focus will now rightly shift to the Melbourne Test and if the Indians believe that they have more than an even chance to record their first ever series win Down Under. In many ways, Australia is India's Final Frontier.