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Watson's desire to open once more could cause dilemma

There's plenty of questions yet to be answered going into Friday's first Test between Australia and India in Chennai.


The elephant in the foyer of Australia's five-star hotel in Chennai could potentially be a source of consternation for the entire journey, over some 50 days, from India's south to north. Watson, the vice-captain, has made no secret that he wants to move back up the order, and his justification makes sense. He has performed best as an opener in Tests and inside the team set-up is believed to be best equipped, certainly on the subcontinent, to bat as early as possible, thus allowing him to plant that characteristic step forward and taking a belligerent approach to the opposition's opening bowlers. This ploy also lessens the chance of Watson facing spin straight away. All well and good, but the problem is how does Ed Cowan feel about it? Having formed a solid, if not spectacular, partnership over more than a year with David Warner, he will be far from pleased if he is made the fall guy for Watson's desire to open.


Remember the circus about Sachin Tendulkar and his quest for a hundredth hundred here little more than 12 months ago? Well, he hasn't made a Test century since. It is now more than two years, in fact, since the once untouchable Tendulkar reached three figures in Tests and at 39 the final curtain is nigh. With Australia facing India minus Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman for the first time in an age the onus may well be on the next generation - Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara - to lead the way. The good news for the home nation is that Tendulkar has found some form, making a ton for Mumbai in the Irani Cup match against the Rest of India last week. However, with India not playing a Test series after this one until the end of the year, in South Africa, this could be the full stop on one of cricket's most legendary careers.


No one can accuse Maxwell of lacking confidence. And in the John Inverarity era the ''multi-skilled'' cricketer is king, so expect the off-spinning all-rounder to figure from the start of this series. Australia will probably enter the first Test with three fast bowlers and bat wicketkeeper Matthew Wade at No.6. That means the other two spots in the XI would go to leading spinner Nathan Lyon and, almost certainly, Maxwell as his back-up and, hopefully, a provider of middle-order runs. The Victorian's star has dimmed since his international debut last August, but he has supporters in the right places who rate him as a match-winner. The question is whether Maxwell's tendency for occasional brilliance can be a sustaining force in Tests. Nicknamed the ''Big Show'' by teammates, they need him to walk the walk.



The Australian captain's record-breaking run-scoring will hit a dry patch at some point and if it occurs in India, as they begin life after Mike Hussey, the batting line-up may look decidedly flimsy. For a start, Clarke must overcome a hamstring problem that was a thorn in his side for the tail end of the summer and will no doubt trouble him until he has some decent time off. The skipper is Australia's best player of spin and against India's Pragyan Ojha, Ravi Ashwin and possibly Harbhajan Singh as well, he will be wanting to have the kind of captain's impact that Alastair Cook had last year. The retirements of Ricky Ponting and Hussey leave Australia with only four players who have played Tests in India: Clarke (10), Watson (6), Mitchell Johnson (6) and Peter Siddle (1) although others, principally David Warner, have experience there in the Indian Premier League and T20 Champions League.


The Australian quicks' ability to get the Indian pill to reverse swing looms as central to leaving with only a second series win ever there. Having seen what Jimmy Anderson in particular was able to do for England last year amid a series dominated by spin, Siddle and company will be using that as a template for their own success. Australia do not have the same quality of spinners so must turn to their strength, disciplined fast bowling, to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Chris Barrett's team for first Test starting next Friday: David Warner, Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Michael Clarke (c), Usman Khawaja, Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon.