Bangalore:Sourav Ganguly will be the cynosure of all eyes as he attempts to script a resounding end to his roller-coaster cricket career when India take on Australia in the opening match of what promises to be a high-voltage four-match Test series starting on Thursday.
After taking the entire cricket fraternity by surprise by deciding to quit after the current series, Ganguly would be hoping that the closing chapters of his career are nothing short of fairytale as India seek to make amends for the home series loss in 2004.
The Bengal left-hander's pre-series retirement announcement is reminiscent of his one-time bitter foe and former Australian captain Steve Waugh's swansong, that completely shifted the focus of the 2004 series Down Under on him.
"Let me play without any pressure on me" was Ganguly's plea to chief selector Krish Srikkanth when he confided in him about his retirement plans but having announced his decision, the left-hander will be expected to play out a special innings to end his career which was as much glorious as controversial.
With Ganguly's retirement, murmurs have started of a phasing out of the other seniors of the squad and the trio of VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid would feel the heat if they fail to perform.
The turmoil in the Indian team, however, gives no reason to the visiting Australians to celebrate as they battle their spin demons on the dry and hard tracks here.
Skipper Ricky Ponting has been a dud with the bat in India despite having over 10,000 Test runs under his belt. The feisty right-hander is desperate to end his India curse but with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh promising to be at their tormeting best, the task seems easier said than done.
In fact quality spin is what gives India the edge in the series because the visitors, after the retirement of Shane Warne, have not managed to find a decent replacement and on tracks where even Warne struggled in his hey-days, the likes of Cameron White and Jason Krejza look hardly threatening.
But the upper-hand in spin does not mean that the Indians can afford to take their world champion rivals lightly.
The Australians boast of a more lethal pace battery led by the in-form Brett Lee, who would be supported by Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson, and the Indian susceptibility to the rising ball is well documented.
The hosts pace challenge would be spearheaded Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma but they are unlikely to generate the kind of pace which can match Lee and Co.
"We need to put up more runs on the board before the bowlers can take up the task of bowling the opposition out twice," said Indian skipper Anil Kumble, making it clear that batsmen hold the key to India's chances.
The bitter past, that ranged from minor spats to an ugly race row, and the one-on-one rivalries like the one between Australian opener Matthew Hayden and Harbhajan add another dimension to the series which would be contested as much on field as off field.
The mind games have already started with Indians harping on Aussie spin woes and the Australians promising to give back as good as they get, setting the stage for a nerve-wracking and high-voltage series. The forecast of a few spells of rains in the next two days has come has a dampner for cricket fans in the city who are eagerly awaiting to see a keen tussle between the bat and the ball.
India:Anil Kumble (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Venkatsai Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Rudra Pratap Singh, Subramaniam Badrinath, Amit Mishra.
Australia:Ricky Ponting (capt), Matthew Hayden, Phil Jaques, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle, Cameron White, Jason Krejza.
Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Asad Rauf (Pakistan). Third Umpire: Amish Saheba.
Fourth Umpire: Sanjay Hazare.
Match Referee: Chris Broad (England).
Hours of play: 9.30 AM To 11.30 AM; 12.10 PM. To 2.10 PM; 2.30 to 4.30 PM.