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08 December 2023

India look for something special at WACA

VVS Laxman of India ducks under a short ball during day four of the second Testagainst Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 6 in Australia. (FILE)


India's underperforming top order will need to produce something special when they face Australia in the third Test at the WACA Ground starting Friday if the tourists are to save the series.

Down 2-0 in the four-Test series and without a century so far with the bat, India could scarcely have picked a tougher venue to try to rediscover their form and resolve after an ugly streak of six away Test losses on the bounce.

Perth's WACA strip is a world away from the low and slow subcontinent pitches India's batsmen thrive on, especially after groundsman Cam Sutherland boldly declared the venue finally back to its venomous best.

Sutherland predicted it would be considerably faster and bouncier than when Australia thrashed England by 267 runs there last summer and just two of the 40 wickets fell to spin.

Australian batsman Mike Hussey said a spicy deck would clearly favour the home side, who have been dominant so far against a disappointing India.

"I hope it's a nice, fast bouncy pitch," he said. "We play those conditions very well.

"It is very different to what the Indian players are used to from their home country."

With the track ideal for seamers, Australia are considering playing four pacemen, something which has had mixed success in Perth down the years.

Indian fast bowler Zaheer Khan, who at the age of 33 finally plays his first Test at the WACA, denied his side - heavy losers in the first two Tests - were concerned about the conditions.

"There has been a lot of talk about how the wicket is going to play in such-and-such manner," he said. "We are confident as a bowling unit of taking 20 wickets."

One positive for India is that a similar pitch prediction in Perth on their last tour, in 2008, saw the home side play four fast bowlers. But it backfired and the tourists won by 72 runs in a match where no batsman scored a century.

Of the Indian top order this time, only the formidable Sachin Tendulkar has looked consistently comfortable in the first two Tests, although his much-anticipated 100th international century has continued to elude him.

Tendulkar has 226 runs at 56.50 for the series, but he has received little support, with fellow veterans Virender Sehwag (108 at 27), Rahul Dravid (112 at 28) and VVS Laxman (71 at 17.75) all struggling.

Tellingly for his top-order team-mates, India's second-best batsman has been tailender Ravi Ashwin, with 143 runs at 35.75.

That puts extra pressure on Tendulkar, who is playing just his third Test at the WACA.

Criticism is mounting at home of India's ageing stars after their dismal batting performances.

India suffered their sixth successive overseas Test defeat, including four in England last year, when they lost to Australia by an innings and 68 runs in Sydney last week to go 2-0 down.

That followed a 122-run defeat in Melbourne in the opening Test.

India's cause should be helped by the fact that Australia will be without young pace sensation James Pattinson, who took 11 wickets in the first two Tests but has been ruled out for the rest of the summer with a foot injury.

He joins fellow pace tyro Patrick Cummins and the experienced Mitchell Johnson, who ripped through England in Perth last summer, on the long-term injured list.

Their absence opens the door for veteran Ryan Harris, who also starred in that win over England, also picking up nine wickets as Australia successfully deployed a four-pronged pace attack.