Australia look to end Indian drought as hosts run for cover - by Kuldip Lal
CALCUTTA, March 10 (AFP) - Australia hold so many trumpcards going into the second Test at the Eden Gardens here from Sunday that their first series win on Indian soil in 31 years appears almost certain.
As beleaguered India stutter from one misfortune to another, only a dramatic change of fortunes will prevent Steve Waugh's men from adding to their record streak of 16 consecutive wins by taking a decisive 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
The world-beating tourists proved they were a class apart from the Indians when they won the first Test at Bombay by 10 wickets with two days to spare.
It was their second successive three-day Test win over the Indians after thrashing them by an innings in Sydney two seasons ago.
The bad news just does not seem to die away for Sourav Ganguly's Indian team which is already struggling to field a Test class bowling attack in the absence of the injured duo of Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble.
Frontline batsman Rahul Dravid appears a doubtful starter on Sunday, suffering from an energy-sapping viral fever that forced him to miss the match-eve training session.
"We will monitor Rahul closely to see if he can take the strain of a five-day match, but it looks 50-50 at the moment," Indian coach John Wright said.
For a side that was shot out for 176 and 219 at Bombay, Dravid's illness is as devastating as the absence of Srinath and Kumble.
With a batting order that relies heavily on Sachin Tendulkar and an attack that lacks sting, Ganguly needs a miracle to ensure his first Test as captain on his home ground does not end in disaster.
"We have to forget the past and settle down quickly," Ganguly said.
"Batting is our strength and this is will be a good wicket to bat on. So I am very positive we will put up a good fight here."
Steve Waugh agreed the flat, dry wicket at the Eden Gardens will be more conducive to batting than the one at Bombay, but declined to say whether he will gamble again by fielding first.
Australia may make one change from the side that won in Bombay, bringing on fast bowler Michael Kasprowicz in place of seamer Damien Fleming.
"We have 14 good guys to pick from so it is going to be a hard decision," Waugh said, a sharp contrast to the confusion in the Indian ranks.
As reserve batsman Hemang Badani awaits the decision on Dravid, the selectors are undecided whether to pick three seamers at the cost of a medium-pacer.
To bolster the attack, India have recalled veterans Venkatesh Prasad and Venkatapathy Raju who were not considered for the last two home series against South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Both look certain to play, which leaves left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan and the two off-spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Sharandeep Singh, in contention for the remaining two places.
Australia come off an excellent batting feast in a three-day match in New Delhi where the Waugh twins made centuries and Ricky Pointing notched up hundreds in both innings.
Australia (from): Steve Waugh (capt), Michael Slater, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Colin Miller, Damien Fleming, Glenn McGrath, Michael Kasprowicz.
India (from): Sourav Ganguly (capt), Sadagopan Ramesh, Shiv Das, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Nayan Mongia, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Venkatapathy Raju, Harbhajan Singh, Sharandeep Singh, Hemang Badani.
Umpires: Peter Willey (England), Shyam Bansal (India)
Match referee: Cammie Smith (West Indies)