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Who’ll win' Their pace, our spin

Pretoria, Feb. 14: The South Africa-West Indies opener at Newlands was a thriller, but events since have taken much of the sheen off cricket’s top show. Shane Warne, the Zimbabwe drama, Jonty Rhodes... For a relaunch, World Cup 2003 is looking to tomorrow’s India versus Australia game.

That will be reflected in the turnout at SuperSport Park, in neighbouring Centurion: Less than 2,000 of the 22,000 tickets on offer were unsold till this afternoon. Only, one hopes the weather won’t play truant.

Amazingly, despite so much cricket, the two countries haven’t faced each other for 22 months. And, yes, much has happened since that Margao one-dayer, where Australia took the series 3-2. Steve Waugh (the then captain) has been banished, the Indians’ form has seen incredible swings and fresh faces have emerged in both sides.

However, for the “Now” in India’s “Now or Never” theme to gain momentum, putting it across the champions is an absolute must. The Super Six and subsequent stages are far away. For now, India’s first test is at SuperSport Park.

The jury, of course, will be out on pride and passion besides the quality of cricket.

“Yes, you could say I’m more fired up... In fact, everybody’s level of motivation is high,” captain Sourav Ganguly told The Telegraph. He knows that, at the end of the day, he will be judged against the best teams, not Bangladesh and Holland.

The Australians, always on a high, are set to intimidate. The measure of their confidence, Warne’s absence notwithstanding, can be gauged from captain Ricky Ponting’s “we take to almost every match as favourites” remark.

Ponting has been plotting to attack, with bat and ball, and it won’t surprise if tearaway Brett Lee, who made the Indians’ stay (in 1999-2000) uncomfortable, is invited to partner Glenn McGrath with the new ball.

That shouldn’t catch India off guard and, while there’s been no war of words, Sourav was quick to emphasise that if there’s this impression about the Indians being suspect against hostile bowling, Australia’s record “versus the Indian spinners” wasn’t hot either.

But mere words count for nothing and the Anil Kumble-Harbhajan Singh twosome will have to deliver on a wicket which, in recent years, has lost pace and bounce.

“What happened in New Zealand is history, wickets in South Africa are definitely suited to the Indians,” acknowledged Australian coach John Buchanan, speaking exclusively.

Having beaten South Africa twice (1992-93 and 2001-02) and lost once to Zimbabwe (1996-97), the Indians have had the better of the exchanges in Centurion. Being routed in an unofficial Test at the same venue, 15 months ago, isn’t of relevance.

Virender Sehwag, though, looked happy he won’t have to be glum-faced this time. At the centre of the Mike Denness-scripted storm which preceded that ‘Test’, Sehwag will very much be in the thick of action now.

Theek hai, I didn’t play the last time, but I was in the XI which beat South Africa in the tri-series (on that same visit). Accha ground hai,” he said.

It’s worthy of a cracker of a game.

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