Agarkar, Laxman back in do-or-die match
India favourites in final
One of our finest wins, says Steve Waugh
Kamlesh: There’s more aggro now
Kochin eye 3 points
Bengal in semi-finals
Razalin wins Bahrain Trophy
Sprinters to test hooves tomorrow

Perth, Jan. 27 
Long-haul flights, different time zones, intra-city distances... Touring Australia isn’t easy. It becomes tougher when the ball keeps rolling the other way. Smiles, too, then come at a premium.

This evening, therefore, it was nice to see Sachin Tendulkar break into a smile, brief though it was.

“It’s 7.30 here, but 10.00 pm in Adelaide (India’s previous stop)... No wonder, all of us are feeling hungry,” Sachin remarked, wiping his mouth to remove any remnant of the pizza he’d just tucked into.

By tomorrow evening, though, it will be clear whether Sachin can afford even a brief smile or he’ll have to carry a huge load of disappointment, as stressful excess baggage, back home.

The requirement is clear: Beat Pakistan, that too convincingly, if slim hopes of making the Carlton and United Series finals are to be encouraged. An Indian defeat, at the WACA ground, will take Pakistan to the best-of-three title round.

So, the morrow’s match is one with a difference. The build-up has been unusual as well: A ball-tampering allegation (by the Pakistanis!), accusations of abusive language...

However, it hasn’t unsettled the Indians and, for his part, the captain insisted his team “wouldn’t do anything” to vitiate the atmosphere. “Our culture isn’t such... I don’t know what they wish to do, but we’ll just concentrate on cricket,” Sachin said.

Earlier, Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam disclosed he would “speak” to his counterpart, Kapil Dev, to clear whatever misunderstanding that remains. Indications, then, that the fireworks at bouncy WACA will strictly be cricket-related.

Still, charges such as those levied by Pakistan — and thrown out by Match Referee Cammie Smith — do leave scars that don’t disappear overnight.

Though under extreme pressure, the Indians (with two points to Pakistan’s six) can draw some inspiration from Tuesday’s sterling performance at the Adelaide Oval.

That win will be remembered as one of the finest-ever, even though yesterday’s loss to Australia again slammed India against the ropes.

As India must go for broke, the thinktank is contemplating a couple of changes in the XI.

It’s certain that Ajit Agarkar will play, after an injury-forced lay-off, and the axe could fall on Debashish Mohanty who must work overtime on his fielding.

Then, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who refuses to grab opportunities with even one hand, has been omitted from not just the XI, but XII. Set to be back — sadly, the Indians have just been rotating failures — is V.V.S. Laxman.

Hopefully, this time, Laxman will make the most of his 12th one-day cap.

Given a choice, Sachin indicated he’d prefer to set a target. “It’s going to be a real pressure game. And, so, it would be best to get a decent score and let Pakistan feel the heat while chasing.”

Pakistan are likely to retain the XI which did duty in Adelaide. At the moment, though, there is a question mark over one of their star performers — Abdul Razzaq. He is recovering from a pulled thigh muscle and may make way for veteran Waqar Younis. As the gain can only be India’s if Razzaq is rested, the Pakistani brains’ trust may just be tempted to take a chance — risky though it will be.

Captain Wasim Akram (again) skipped nets — apparently, he wished to stay away from the Media — but Intikhab maintained he was merely “resting” and would play.

Of course, India will be looking to a truly muscular start from Sachin and Sourav Ganguly and, then, hoping the middle-order finally comes of age.

The expectations of Pakistan, too, will be on similar lines. With two of their top batsmen out of form, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq, the pressure on the rest of the line-up has been immense.

When it comes to the moment of reckoning, how the opening spells are handled should prove decisive for both teams. And, yes, the one to really watch out for could be Shoaib Akhtar. After all, if there’s one wicket which lights up the quicks’ eyes, it’s the one at WACA.    

Colombo, Jan. 27 
On the basis of their consistent performances in the competition — including a victory over Sri Lanka in the Super League — it would be easy to mark India as favourites when they take on the hosts in the final of the Under-19 World Cup at the Sinhalese Sports Club grounds here tomorrow. But given the fact that Sri Lanka are playing at home and have also had a fine record in the tournament, their chances too cannot be discounted. The two teams from the sub-continent, in fact, have been the outstanding sides in the tournament while the third, Pakistan, have not been far behind. They were a bit unlucky to lose to Sri Lanka in the semi-final by ten runs. India have cruised through to the title round, beating Bangladesh, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nepal, England and Sri Lanka. They then defeated Australia in the semi-final. Sri Lanka, too, had a smooth ride, their only set back being the one against India.    

Perth, Jan. 27 
AUSTRALIA 329/5 (50 overs). INDIA 177 (46.5 overs) MoM: MARK WAUGH

It truly was Australia Day at the Adelaide Oval, yesterday: Steve Waugh’s team did nothing wrong; the Indians were back to being at their embarrassing best.

Back-to-back games are never easy, but the Indians were bent on making things more difficult. And, in all departments.

Steve had decided on first strike long before he actually won the toss and with openers Mark Waugh (116 in 131 deliveries, 5x4, 1x6) and Adam Gilchrist (92 off 102 balls, 7x4, 2x6) regaining form at the same time, Australia were quickly en route to a huge total.

On match-eve, Steve had talked of the opening partnership as being one area where Australia could improve. Obviously, Mark and Gilchrist got the message — adding 163 in 30 overs.

In the event, Australia posted the highest-ever in ODIs in Australia (bettering their own 323 for two, versus Sri Lanka in 1984-85), and came close to eclipsing their highest-ever anywhere: 332 for three, against Sri Lanka, in Sharjah (1989-90).

Ricky Ponting chipped in handsomely as did top-drawer allrounders Andrew Symonds and Shane Lee. Being in an enviable position, Steve could shuffle the batting order at will. For instance, Michael Bevan came later than No.4 and Steve himself didn’t bat.

The Australians not only sent the Indians to all corners of the park, they treated the capacity turnout (nearly 30,000 paying spectators) to extraordinary shuttling between wickets. It was an absolute treat, as the fielders kept fumbling.

Really, it all proved a bit too much for the Indians who, in any case, have come to wholly rely on two batsmen — captain Sachin Tendulkar and vice-captain Sourav Ganguly.

Both left within 11 overs, Sourav to a poor shot and Sachin to a breathtaking catch by Stuart MacGill and India were straightaway down for the count.

Rahul Dravid did post his second half-century of the Carlton and United Series (63 in 82 deliveries, 10x4) but, overall, it was such a pathetic display that those on the terraces and ‘hills’ often booed.

A feature of the Indian innings was the terrifying pace Brett Lee worked up. He fired out two batsmen in his first spell (five overs) and three in the second. To say he has made a difference to the Australian attack would be one big understatement.

The Indians not only struggled against pace, they were groping against MacGill’s leg-spin too. Incidentally, with his other bowlers doing the job, Steve didn’t have to re-introduce Glenn McGrath after his opening burst (5-1-13-1).

Asked whether the 152-run victory had been one of the easiest, under his captaincy, a smiling Steve replied: “It’s been one of our finest. We didn’t put a foot wrong: An excellent start, a total well over 300 and outstanding fielding, specially in the first 15 overs...”

Laughing, Steve added: “The only problem I have is that I can only pick XI and some guys have to be left out. As for me, I don’t have much to do.”

Man of the Match Mark, who has had a rough summer, acknowledged he was relieved at having got a three-figure score. “I began with a boundary and that helped me quickly gain in confidence... It hasn’t been the best of summers, for me, but I never felt I didn’t have the ability.”

Grinning just a bit, Mark added: “I know the best way to keep people off one’s back is to score... For much of the summer, perhaps, I hadn’t been watching the bowler’s hand as closely as I ought to have been doing...”

With six wins in seven games, in fact six on-the-trot, was there the risk of complacency taking root?

Steve’s answer appeared well-rehearsed: “I’m sure it won’t happen to these guys... Each individual has a role and everyone of them takes immense pride in performing for Australia.”

That, then, is the formula for success.    

Calcutta, Jan. 27 
Table tennis in India has done reasonably well in recent years. Indian men finished 33rd and women in the 40’s in the last World Championship in Glasgow.

Indian boys and girls won four bronze medals at the Asian junior meet in Chennai last year, Chetan Baboor became the first Indian to reach the final of an Asian event in the 1997 Asia Cup and the Indian team finished second behind Engalnd in the Commonwealth Championship.

It all happened after Kamlesh Mehta took over as national coach. He, though, thinks it’s just coincidental. He is in town for the pre-Olympic, Commonwealth and World Championship camps. It started at the SAI complex Tuesday and will conclude on February 8.

“My job is to motivate the players, help them get used to the demands at the international level,” said Mehta.

He has noticed positive changes. “Players of this generation, especially the juniors, are aggressive. The seniors have adapted well too. Arup Basak and S. Raman trying to improve top-spin counters at this stage of their career being an example.”

He said more Indians are using modern methods like applying ‘speed glue’ on rackets to facilitate power-play. “The glue is not available in India