Clash of the Titans: India prepare to face Aussies

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> As the Australians prepare for the big series against India, Indian cricket is having to come to terms with life without Tendulkar at the top.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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For years, Sachin Tendulkar has been India's mascot. Now, as the Australians prepare for the big series against India, Indian cricket is having to come to terms with life without Tendulkar at the top. "Sachin is mentally tough. For the last 15 years he has played consistently. He has a lot of pressure on him and expectations from the people. We hope he will be fit for the second test and play an important role in the series," said Indian vice captain Rahul Dravid. "For 15 years he has been the rock around which everything else has revolved - so for such an important series, for someone who has such an outstanding record against Australia, for someone who has comprehensively mastered the great Shane Warne I think his presence is very important," said cricket writer Ramachandra Guha. Odds favour Aussies The odds will favour the Australians even more if Tendulkar cannot play the entire series, and not just the first test. Sachin has scored centuries against the Aussies, including a whopping 260 in the last test at Sydney. For the Australians, India has become a final frontier. No Aussie team has won a series here since 1969. "I think we've played extremely well and we've always done well at home and the last 14 years that I've been playing for India, the only series that we've lost was the one against South Africa. So we have a pretty good record and we'd like to keep it that way," said Anil Kumble. Focus on spin The key, the Indians believe, may not lie in Tendulkar and the batsmen, but in spin. In the last series, Harbhajan Singh took 32 wickets in three tests and Indian strategy could once again revolve around spin. "Everybody will have to chip in and it will be good if the fast bowlers get a good start - it'll help the spinners if they can get early breakthroughs. It'll definitely help the spinners and I am hoping that it will happen," said Kumble. "I'd say on Indian wickets the Indian bowling is marginally stronger particulary if, as to be expected, we prepare turning tracks - there I think Harbhajan and Kumble will really come into their own. On our wickets, in our conditions, with the kind of heat and so on, endless days and with screaming crowds shouting for every close appeal, I think our spinners should have a good time," added Guha. Australia has a spin king of its own, the larger than life Shane Warne. Warne has said he will target Rahul Dravid this time, though in the past it's been Tendulkar who's kept the Australians at bay. "Everybody is looking forward to the charismatic Shane Warne, everybody is talking about Shane Warne and Sachin. We are looking forward for Sachin's comeback at the earliest," said Syed Kirmani, former chariman, Selection Board. Batting woes Without Tenulkar the batting is still formidable, but with no settled opening pair, the heart of India's batting line up could be exposed if things go wrong at the very top of the line up. "Unfortunately the messages sent have been very varied. The captain and the coach have gone public with their preferences and these preferences have change. One week it is Sehwag and Chopra and the next week it is Yuvraj and the third week there is even talk of Laxman going up the order and Sehwag coming down, so let's hope this settles down and we have one established opening pair," said Guha. For the Indians though, life without Sachin hasn't been easy as the performances in the Champions Trophy showed. Home advantage What the team is now hoping is that the home environment will provide an edge, especially in the opening game in spin-friendly Bangalore. "I don't think we need to read too much into the one day performances - we have done well in the Test matches and I am sure come October 6th we will be able to do it," said Kumble. Indian fans may have been very disappointed by their team's poor performances over the last few months, but such is the magic appeal of the game in India that the first test here in Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium is bound to get the juices flowing again.

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