India and Australia lock horns in mouth-watering series
There will be plenty at stake as modern cricket's biggest rivals India and Australia lock horns in an eagerly awaited four-Test series starting in Chennai from Friday.
Although South Africa has already sealed its position as the number-one ranked Test side at the April 1 cut-off date with which it has not only retained the Test mace but has also been assured of a reward of $450,000, a further $750,000 is still up for grabs, according to the ICC.
This money will be distributed to teams that will finish second ($350,000), third ($250,000) and fourth ($150,000) on the Championship table at the cut-off date.
As such, India and Australia, as well as second-ranked England, which will take on New Zealand in a three-Test series from March 6, will be aiming to collect points from their respective series which can help them win the increased incentive in the form of prize money which was approved by the ICC Board in 2012 and was aimed to promote Test cricket in the period before the ICC Test Championship event in 2017.
Australia is currently ranked third and leads fifth-ranked India by 12 ratings points. However, this could potentially change, depending how the series pans out.
To be guaranteed second position on the Test Championship table at the April 1 cut-off date, Australia needs to win the series 2-0 or better.
If Australia wins 2-0 and England beats New Zealand 3-0, then both Australia and England will be locked at 119 ratings points but Australia will be ranked above England when the ratings are calculated beyond the decimal point.
As far as India is concerned, it can move ahead of Pakistan and finish in fourth position at the April 1 cut-off date if it wins the series by 1-0 or better. To move ahead of Australia, India will need to win all the four Tests of the series.
Adding to the intrigue is the decision by India to keep the final playing XI under wraps although it is no secret that the surface at Chepauk Stadium would turn from the first day, according to Indian media reports.
Australian captain Michael Clarke at a press conference on Thursday: "What's the Indian XI? Have they informed?"
However, India finally let one out of their bag when they informed that Harbhajan Singh will play his 100th Test match at the Chepauk.
The offspinner, who was dropped after a poor Mumbai Test against England late last year, will be partnering Ravichandra Ashwin as the two try to weave their magic around the four Australian left-handers in the top seven, according to Times of India.
However, the big question in the Indian ranks is whether they should play both left-arm spinners Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja or choose to go in with two pacers.
"I don't know what the final XI will be," Harbhajan said.
Throwing a challenge to Clarke & Co, Bhajji said, "Earlier, the Australian teams had match-winners from No. 1 to No. 11. This is a new team and many of these guys have only played IPL before. But, Test cricket is a different ball game."
Australia have opted to go with four specialist with Clarke despite being aware how England lost the opening Test, and bounced back only after including a second specialist spinner Monty Panesar to complement Graeme Swann to win the series 2-1.
"I have made plenty of mistakes before and it won't surprise me if I make another. But the focus is selecting our best XI. And if that does not work, we reassess for the second Test," Clarke told a news conference.
"I certainly watched the Test matches against England. After the first Test they brought in Panesar and had a huge impact. So, you have to learn from that. But it would be silly to play like somebody else.
"We need to play the Australian way and stick to our strengths. I am confident if we can execute our skills, we can have success here," he said.
Meanwhile, both India and Australia boast only one batsman each inside the top 20 of the Reliance ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen.
Australia captain Michael Clarke is occupying second position, six ratings points behind South Africa’s Hashim Amla, while India’s Sachin Tendulkar is in 20th spot.
In the Reliance ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers, Australia’s Peter Siddle is the highest-ranked bowler in fifth position, with fellow paceman Mitchell Johnson in 18th.
For India left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha is in eighth spot and his fellow spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is in 20th place.
South Africa v Pakistan
3rd Test – 22-26 Feb, Centurion
India v Australia
1st Test - 22-26 Feb, Chennai
2nd Test – 2-6 Mar, Hyderabad
3rd Test – 14-18 Mar, Mohali
4th Test – 22-26 Mar, Delhi
Reliance ICC Test Championship table (as on February 21 before the start of India-Australia Test series)
1. South Africa 124 points; 2. England 118; 3. Australia 117; 4. Pakistan 109; 5. India 105; 6. Sri Lanka 92; 7. West Indies 91; 8. New Zealand 78; 9. Bangladesh 0
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