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FACING THE AUSSIES
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI

There are targets, there are opportunities. And, while “target of opportunity” was bandied about on Day-I of the latest conflict, a very different turf will see different targets and opportunities Sunday.

Indeed, thousands of miles from Baghdad and Basra, two men — irrespective of their public posturing — will be targetting each other. The opportunity will present itself during the final of World Cup 2003. We are, of course, speaking of Sachin Tendulkar and Brett Lee.

One is fiery, the other explosive. One has struck a perfect rhythm over the past six weeks, the other has amassed an incredible 669 runs. One unwinds with the bass guitar, the other is a foodie. Debate if you wish, but the Sachin vs Lee face-off will have a huge bearing on the India-Australia battle.

If fast, furious and accurate is Lee’s visiting card, Sachin doesn’t really need one. Typically, though, he isn’t treating the final as a clash between him and Lee. “It’s too important a game to be reduced to a duel between individuals,” Sachin told The Telegraph Saturday morning.

He added: “Actually, I’ll be starting with a blank mind... No baggage of the past, no nothing...” For Lee and Australia, that’s ominous: The last time Sachin took guard with a “blank mind”, against Pakistan, he smashed the Shoaib Akhtars for an epic 98. So...

The Indians haven’t ever quite liked Lee, who introduced himself with a bang during a tour match on the Indians’ 1999-2000 visit Down Under. As for the Australians, they have always held Sachin in esteem, not least because the Don himself had so much affection.

Yet, over the years, Sachin has treated the Australians with disdain. In fact, so pulverising was his run in Sharjah (early 1998) that Shane Warne confessed the “nightmares” never stopped.

With good reason, then, captain Ricky Ponting is specially wary of India’s mascot. “We don’t need to be reminded he can single-handedly force the issue,” he remarked the other day.

Equally, the Indians are aware Lee can have a crippling effect over his ten overs. As recently as last month, during the league game in Centurion, he was devastating in that opening burst of six overs. Given the new ball, Lee quickly evicted Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly, ensuring a less than challenging total.

With Australia overhauling India’s 125 in under 23 overs, the pre-match (high-voltage) billing went for a toss. Only, like the Limpopo, Team India today has an appreciably different look. Much as things change, quite a few remain constant. Like a Sachin vs Lee face-off.

Don’t miss it.

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