| BOBBY SIMPSON
In recent times, Test battles between Australia and India have been decided on home team advantages. In India the local spinners have prevailed and they are the only team the present Australian outfit hasn’t beaten away. It is a totally different story, however, in Australia and the Australian fast attack has easily destroyed the Indian batting line up.
Now, the two teams meet in the final of the World Cup away from home. It should be a fascinating clash and one hard to pick, for so many changes have happened to both teams since they last met.
Normally on the fastest and the bounciest wicket in South Africa you would have to pick Australia. Not only will there be pace and bounce, but the high altitude of Johannesburg will also make the ball fly quicker and further. Fast and swing bowlers have always done well in the thin air of the Transvaal and I believe the quicks will play a deciding factor in the final.
In the fifty years that I have been involved in first class cricket, this is the first time I have thought pace on both sides would decide a India – Australia clash. It is also probably the first time I have felt that India have had a good enough pace attack to do the job. This transformation has been quite remarkable, but in Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Nehra, they have a fine attack.
The early overs by the Australian opening bowlers will not be the place for faint-hearted batsmen. In recent matches, Lee in particular hasn’t been shy in using short pitch bowling to unsettle the opposition.
Even the tact that only one bouncer per over is allowed will not stop him from bowling short of length. Because he knows well that it is not the high bouncers that cause batsmen to flinch but consistent short balls aimed at the body that does the mental damage.
It is also obvious that captain Ganguly and Sehwag will be the main recipients. It is generally accepted that they are not at home against the short pitch delivery and the Aussies will test this theory to the limit. While these tactics might seem rough and tough, they are within the laws of the game and the Indian batsmen must mentally prepare for them.
While McGrath and Bichel will not bowl as many short balls as Lee, they will still let the odd one go to play the mental game on the Indian batsmen. In general, though, they will stick to what they do best. In McGrath’s case, he will concentrate on his unbelievable accuracy of both length and line and frustrate the batsmen into error.
Sachin Tendulkar, the world’s best batsmen at present, is also sure to be targeted by Lee in particular. Every now and then Tendulkar, due to his lack of height, can get caught out by short balls on his body which he attempts to fend away. In my view, the best Sachin would do is to just duck under the line of delivery and wait for the short one more suitable for his favourite square-cut.
Like Steve Waugh, Rahul Dravid never looks totally comfortable against short balls, but he very seldom tries to get out of them. Inevitably, bowlers against Waugh and Dravid bowl far too many short deliveries to try and shake them up. This is only playing into their hands as both of these batsmen are vulnerable against the ball that is well pitched up.
If India do bowl first and the wicket is lively the Indian bowlers must not get carried away and try to match the Australian tactics. While Nehra and Khan have good pace and useful bouncers, they are at their best and most dangerous when they keep the ball up and allow it to swing.
Make no mistake about it, the Australian openers Hayden and Gilchrist will adopt the same tactics that has made them the most successful, dangerous and exciting combination ever in ODIs. They prosper when bowlers panic and try to do too much with the ball. Good old fashion line and length and patience is the way against them.
India’s two left hand swing bowlers, to my mind, hold the key to an Indian victory. In recent times and indeed in this tournament, Australia have had trouble against the swinging ball. It hasn’t been the greatest of tours in recent weeks for the top order Australian batsmen and they are sure to be a little tense and worried.
The Indian new ball attack, to take advantage of this, must bowl to that strength and the batsmen’s weakness and keep the ball up to allow it to swing.
Ricky Pointing, in particular, must be targeted. When Pointing is not in form and down in confidence he tends to play his front foot shots on the move. This makes him vulnerable against left-handers, bowling across him and also change of pace.
The captain’s wicket is always a vital one to take and India must attack him early in these areas. Taking wickets is always the best way to win in any form or cricket. Too often this aspect is neglected in one-day matches.
If India are to win this final, they must attack the Australian batsmen and force them into error.