The first Test of this four game series could hardly have gone worse for Australia. Facing an Indian side looking to bounce back from a rare home defeat (to England) they found themselves 153-5 before the first afternoon was over. A dogged stand between captain Michael Clarke and debutante Moises Henriques almost doubled the score and at 380 their total looked a competitive one. But then came the record-breaking efforts of Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who blasted 224 runs to set the highest score by both an Indian captain and an Indian wicketkeeper. With the pitch beginning to turn viciously Australia ended up within an ace of losing by an innings. Only another assured knock from Henriques meant that India had to bat again, but an eight wicket defeat was the very least they deserved.
It goes without saying that they will look for a much better performance in the second game, which begins in Hyderabad on Saturday. However, their options could be limited. Opening bat David Warner suffered a recurrence of the gastric bug which affected him during the first game and has been unable to train. Fast bowler Jackson Bird has already returned home injured. Both are significant blows to a team which already looked a batsman light and whose fast bowlers offered little in the opening game.
The spin bowling cupboard, meanwhile, looks as bare as it has ever done. Nathan Lyon, long touted as the preferred incumbent of that position, bowled one beautiful delivery to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar, but his three wickets cost 215 runs, one of the most expensive analyses in Test history.
Australia have two options if Warner misses out. One is to go for left handed batsman Usman Khawaja, who had an inauspicious Test debut in the final game of the 2010/11 Ashes. The other is to give a debut to off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. Neither choice inspires much confidence and neither has the ability to turn a game that the big-hitting Warner does.
India for their part are likely to be unchanged, although there is clamour for veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh to retire gracefully after an undistinguished performance in his hundredth Test. If there is a change there then left armer Pragyan Ohja is likely to come in, having been in good form in domestic cricket. The opening partnership of Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay contributed only 37 runs for four times out and could also be under pressure, but with Dhoni having stated publicly after the last game that India’s batting and bowling combinations were ‘settled’, they are likely to be given another chance.
Sehwag has not had a good run with the bat recently and it is fair to say that some of his old fire seems to have deserted him, but he still usually makes one big score per series and his two previous games on this ground have brought him almost 200 runs. He’s currently a very good 4/1 at most major online sportsbooks to be India’s top run scorer.
It is hard to see Australia making too much of a contest of this, given their current form and injury worries. As a result, India are very short odds to win, even money mostly. Therefore the best value for your sports picks lies in predicting the series result. A 2-0 Indian victory is surprisingly long odds, 8/1 at Ladbrokes for example, and yet that seems to me the most likely outcome, with Australia gradually adapting to the playing conditions without being quite good enough to force a win.