One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Match Preview: India Vs. Australia

One of the biggest matches in the preliminary round of the World Cup 2003, will take place today. It'll be played, at Supersport Park in Centurion, between the defending champions, Australia and India.

Supersport Park, CenturionAustralia and India have had contrasting victories in their previous matches in the tournament. While Australia overcame a shaky start to trounce Pakistan by over 80 runs, the Indians, on the other hand, made a mess of their batting display against minnows Holland only to recover the situation through some good bowling by the duo from Karnataka. Though Indians won comfortably in the end, it was their batting that let millions of their fans down.

Let us not review the performances in the past... let us only look forward... to the upcoming match.

It is an open secret that apart from the Proteas, it is the Indians that cause the most sleepless nights in the Australian camp. The coming together of the spin twins is the fact that is causing so much insomnia among the Aussie batsmen. Looking through the Aussie batting line-up, we see that Matthew Hayden is perhaps the only batsman that has given India a hard time in the past. Adam Gilchrist, the scourge of bowlers worldwide, hasn't really clicked against the Indians in the past. Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Jimmy Maher are all good batsmen, very good in fact. But they are not the best in the world when it comes to playing against quality spin bowling... and in Bhajji and Kumble, India have probably the best spin bowling attack in this World Cup. Symonds, the hero from the match against Pakistan is perhaps one batsman that Indians should look out for. In the past, it has always been batsmen like Andrew Symonds or the West Indian Powell, who have come in at the fall of the top order and taken toll of the less-than-incisive support bowling that India has. The rest of the Aussie batsmen are not a problem for the Indians.

The Australian bowling, however, is an entirely different proposition. An attack made up of McGrath, Lee, Gillespie can strike fear into hearts of any batting line-up. Even during the last World Cup, it was the accuracy of Glenn McGrath that proved to be the undoing of the Indian batting stars like Tendulkar and Dravid. Added to that accuracy, is the raw pace of an often-erratic Brett Lee. However, in my view, the most dangerous bowler in the Aussie line-up, as far as the Indian batting goes, will be Jason Gillespie. With his combination of pace and line, Gillespie has often troubled the Indians. Apart from these three, the bowling of Symonds and Hogg holds no devils, though it begs to be pointed out that Indians are suckers for bowlers like Symonds (remember the success that Andre Adams had in the recently concluded New Zealand tour)

Lets have a look at the Indian batting. With Tendulkar opening the batting alongwith Ganguly (a move that should have been resorted to, in the NZ tour itself), the top of the Indian batting looks solid, on paper of course. Ideally, I would have liked Sehwag, in the prime form that he is, opening the batting with Tendulkar. But since the team management has decided to stick with the out-of-form Ganguly at the top of the order, so be it. Sehwag will be playing against the Aussies, on such a big stage, for the first time... and will naturally look forward to the occasion. But he would be well advised to rein in his instincts just a little bit, since it is a foregone conclusion that the Aussies will set up a trap for him. Either a short ball on the leg stump, into his rib-cage or a short ball just outside the off-stump, inviting a cut, but without any room to execute it, will most probably be the option against the butcher from Najabgarh. Rahul Dravid will provide solidity to this highly talented, if temperamental, line-up. Yuvraj Singh, whose 81 against the Aussies in his debut match still ranks as one of the most memorable innings by an Indian against the Aussies in an ODI, will look to play the role that is played by Symonds in the opposite camp. By the looks of it, Kaif is all set to miss the match, with a string of failures in the last few matches Talk of Bangar replacing him is rife in the media circles. Bangars entry boosts up the bowling attack slightly. But he looks decidedly uncomfortable against big-gun bowlers while bowling. So, its not the most positive of moves. The Indian tail leaves a lot to be desired. And this is putting it mildly.

The Indian bowling looks settled, for once. The in-form Srinath (the newest 300-wickets club member) and the vastly-improved Zaheer are competent enough to trouble the Aussie top-order. But one thing that goes against Srinath is his inability to cope with pressure that is caused by an opposition onslaught against his bowling (as was evident in the NZ tour match where Astle tore apart his bowling in one over). The strong Aussie top-order will belooking to exploit this weakness. Zaheer is much better at handling pressure. The spin bowling looks incisive and stingy at the same time. So, the top four bowlers are decided. It is the fifth bowler that may cause India the problems. But theinclusion of Bangar will sort out that problem to a large extent. Rahul Dravid's wicket-keeping will be thoroughly tested in this match.

Australians are much much better in the field than the Indians, and the Indians will have to field out of their skins to make a match of it. The athletic abilities of Kaif will be sorely missed, should he not play today.

All in all, a very exciting match in prospect today. The Australians are wary of the Indians and that should work in the favour of the Indian team. Moreover, the Indian team should remember, that they had beaten Australia in that ICC knockout in Nairobi a few years back, completely on the basis of the principle that "Attack is the best form of defense". And so, Indians will have to go all out and try to dominate the Aussies from the word go, if they want to cause an upset and stay in contention for the Super Six berth.

My prediction: As usual, the head says that Aussies are the favourites. But the heart dictates that it'll be the Indians that will be doing the victory lap of the Supersport Park today evening!

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