Going by the relative strengths of India and Australia, the World
Cup quarterfinal between two strong rivals here Thursday will be
fought on level terms at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera here.
India will have to tighten their game, and the batting in
particular, if they harbour any hopes of avenging their 2003 final
loss to the defending champions.
If the Australians hope to cash in on their tearaway pacers, the
Indians think their solid batting lineup can handle the
thunderbolts; if Australia feel they have adequate batting resources
to take them across the line, the Indians are confident that they
have bowlers to stymie them.
The one area the four-time champions score over the 1983 champions
is in the fielding -- the Aussies can convert ones into twos and
cutoff the possibilities of the Indians taking a second run. It is
one for the throw when Australia are batting and none when they are
The one big psychological factor in India's favour is that they had
beaten Australia in the only game played in last year's three-match
series, the other two being rained off.
The pre-match mindgames by both sides generated a fair bit of heat.
If Yuvraj Singh sounded the battle-cry saying Aussies are ripe for
picking, Australian coach Tim Nielsen hit back, insisting that the
co-hosts will be under pressure playing at home.
In the run-up to the game, both teams had issues to ponder over.
Australia's 34-match unbeaten run in the World Cup ended last week
when Pakistan beat them and the news that the Australian cricket
establishment is divided over Ricky Ponting's continuance as skipper
after the World Cup has not helped matters. Ponting, however,
cleared the air saying he is not retiring and is looking forward to
the "toughest challenge of his career as an Australian captain".
For India, too, it doesn't look all hunky dory. Their bowling has
not been able to bowl top sides out and the middle and lower-order
batsmen have failed to cash in on the good starts.
The availability of Virender Sehwag, who sat out the last match with
a troublesome knee, is still unsure.
A decision on Sehwag's fitness will be taken Thursday morning, said
captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "We will take a call tonight or
Overall, Australia have an impressive record against India in the
World Cup. They have won their last five games against Australia --
one each in 1992, 1996, 1999 and twice in 2003, including the
battering they gave the Indians in the final.
Ponting knows India will be tough to beat at home and said his boys
will be treating the tie as a "mini grand final". He believes his
pace battery led by Brett Lee has the ability to stop the Indian
"I know that we will be facing some 30 overs of spin bowling, but
the Indians will also face some 30 overs of genuine fast bowling.
Two contrasting ways to look at it, but they are the strengths of
the two sides," Ponting said.
"I think if our fast bowlers bowl well against their batsmen, we
have a good chance."
The Australian skipper, however, warned his teammates not to take
India's pace spearhead Zaheer Khan lightly.
"We had a close look at him. After a short opening spell, he has
been held back until the 26th over when the ball gets old and starts
reversing. And he has got the wickets when the batsmen went after
him in the later stages of the game," said Ponting.
India's top order batting has come good despite the inexplicable
Tendulkar and Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh have set the platform for the
middle-order to dominate. Powerplay has been India's major problem.
Yuvraj, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli have shown their individual
brilliance, but it is time the Indians put up a collective
performance with the bat.
All eyes will be on Tendulkar as fans are eagerly waiting for him to
get his 100th international century.
Ponting has other plans for Tendulkar.
"It is an amazing record. But we have to make sure that he doesn't
get a hundred and I am sure he is also working how to get to the
feat," said Ponting.
Ponting, who is going through a rough patch, will try to draw
inspiration from the 2003 final, when he blasted a majestic 140 not
out from 121 balls. Statistics also show that Australia have won 24
of 29 ODIs when Ponting hits a century.
Ponting has watched videos of the special knock at least four to
five times and said it has given him the much-needed confidence
coming into this game. The stage is set for him to strike form,
after all Thursday's game could be the last duel between the two
greats in a World Cup.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wicket-keeper), Virender
Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh,
Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf
Patel, S. Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla, R. Ashwin, Ashish Nehra.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin,
Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey, Cameron White, Steve Smith, Mitchell
Johnson, Brett Lee, Jason Krejza, Shaun Tait, Callum Ferguson, Tim
Paine, David Hussey, John Hastings
Umpires: Marais Erasmus (South Africa) and Ian Gould (England)
Third umpire: Richard Kettleborough (England)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)