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Harbhajan doubtful in crunch tie
- India contemplate fielding extra bowler at Kaif’s expense
Harbhajan has severe chest infection

Bangalore: Not only in the context of the TVS Cup, but for what lies ahead in 2003-2004, it’s essential that Team India makes a statement at the Chinnaswamy on Wednesday. The Gwalior win, after all, is distant history and the sequence of defeats — Mumbai and Cuttack — must end.

With even Ricky Ponting acknowledging that Sourav Ganguly’s return will alter the home side’s body language, the captain’s comeback (after two surgeries) couldn’t have been a game later. Of course, a loss won’t end India’s push for a berth in the November 18 final, but too much will hinge on the November 15 clash with New Zealand.

As Sourav put it, aim for maximum points both against the world champions and the Black Caps. The ‘impact’ of the past is to be seen, yes, but it’s a fact that India have won all three previous ODIs here versus Australia.

The Australian captain, though, isn’t going to “talk” about it. “Oh, I wasn’t aware of such a record... In any case, I won’t be talking about it to my boys... Actually, how we play tomorrow will matter, not how we did two-and-half years ago or whenever,” Ponting maintained.

Aware of the stiff ask, Sourav felt an allround improvement from the earlier matches should make a difference: “Basically, we must play in the manner we did for about a year (beginning with the 2001-2002 ODIs in the West Indies)... That, after all, brought us much success...”

He continued: “Personally, I’ll be looking to get into groove... I’ve had a forced break and, now, it’s time to make up for lost time...” Incidentally, asked whether Australia would be under some pressure, given that the regular India captain was back, Ponting quipped: “The pressure will be on him... He’s making a comeback...”

With so much at stake, coach John Wright was set to field the best XI for the first time in the competition. However, Harbhajan Singh’s illness has put the proverbial spanner in the works. He is down with a severe chest infection and, unless there’s a miraculous recovery, won’t take the field.

Harbhajan did go to the Chinnaswamy with the team, for the workout, but quickly returned to the hotel.

Tabiyet dhili hai... Theek nahin lag raha... Agar accha improvement nahin hua to khelna ekdum mushkil hai,” he said, speaking exclusively, late on Tuesday. It seems Murali Kartik is going to be the beneficiary. Till this development, he was to get the axe to facilitate Anil Kumble’s return.

Kumble didn’t play the last game, against New Zealand (Cuttack), owing to his father’s demise.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, the Indians are contemplating fielding an extra bowler at the expense of Mohammed Kaif. Nothing has been finalised, but should there be a batsman less, then Ajit Agarkar will keep his place. Or else, the new ball will be given to Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, making a comeback after almost eight months.

“At the moment, our attack has become predictable... An extra bowler may just make some difference,” one of the sources pointed out. The batsmen, though, haven’t really been firing. So will Sourav gamble and opt for six-five as opposed to the ‘conventional’ seven-four'

The Australians will definitely bring back the hottest opening pair (Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden). Brad Williams could also feature in the XI. Indications are that only Jimmy Maher and Michael Kasprowicz, both of whom played in Guwahati, are out of the picture.

By Ponting’s own admission, his side hasn’t been playing at hundred per cent: “We’ve played well in patches... Responding to the challenges ahead rests entirely in our hands... However, one can’t predict anything...”

Perhaps, he is bracing for an Indian blitz.

Significantly, the Australian captain emphasised there was no drop in motivation given that his team is already in the final. He added: “It’s never difficult keeping this side motivated... That’s the beauty of this team...”

Well...

With the dew not expected to be a factor, the captain winning the toss is sure to set a target. “That’s to be desired in day-night matches in these parts,” opined Ponting. As for Sourav, he usually prefers runs on the board. One exception was the World Cup final but, then, everybody learns.

TEAMS

India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S.Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Anil Kumble, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.

Note: Ajit Agarkar will retain his place, with Kaif going out, if five bowlers are picked.

Australia (from): Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Michael Clarke, Ian Harvey, Andy Bichel, Brad Hogg, Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken.

Umpires: Neil Mallendar (Eng), A.V. Jayaprakash (Ind).

TV umpire: K. Hariharan (Ind).

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