| Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting relax during nets at the Eden on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: At the academy in Adelaide they will tell you that cricket is just like a game of chess — placing your men into a position of strength and then manoeuvring to set terms for the opposition. The Australians are adept at it and that makes them such an invincible force to reckon with.
An aggressive counter ploy is not going to work in such circumstances. The Wanderers experience, where Ricky Ponting & Co. toyed with the bowlers’ charge, remains a case in point and only a planned and well-calculated approach will be able to topple their supremacy.
Be it the World Cup final or the matches in Mumbai and Bangalore, the hosts have lost the battle to the visitors in the first 15 overs. The contest thereafter has been a struggle in futility.
Sourav Ganguly stressed as much this afternoon. “We have to bowl well in the first 15 overs. This is an area we need to work on as we have not bowled well against the Aussies in the initial overs of the tournament so far.” How well his bowlers deliver on Tuesday will give the Indian skipper a sleepless night rather than his groin strain, which has shown significant improvement.
Not without reason coach John Wright worked with Zaheer Khan in an adjacent strip for more than half-an-hour, setting up specific targets and bowling to definite plans. How well the bowlers’ spirit holds up under assault will also be another significant feature of the contest.
The indifferent form of the bowlers has prompted Sourav to debate upon going into Tuesday’s final with five specialists, even if that means keeping out a batsman in Mohammed Kaif. Ajit Agarkar and Avishkar Salvi are then likely to give Zaheer company while Anil Kumble will lose his place to the fit Harbhajan Singh. The impressive Murali Kartik, who lost out to Kumble for the tour of Australia will, thus, stay put.
There is another school of thought that prefers three spinners. Salvi will then get the boot.
Erapalli Prasanna feels Harbhajan Singh will be the key to India’s hopes on a virgin pitch that has been left dry with little watering in the last few days. The top layer is likely to crumble as the match wears on making it very difficult to bat during the second session.
Ponting said as much at the media conference. “The wicket will slow down. Given the choice, I’ll bat first as there doesn’t seem to be much movement early on.”
The dew factor is the talking point yet again and is keeping Ponting worried. The use of the super-sopper during the break will work to both the teams’ benefit to a certain extent, but as Sourav put it, “whatever advantage the team batting first gets, will be nullified by the dew factor. I think the conditions are even for both sides.”
The Indian skipper is fighting to be fit. He had a knock at the nets after going through a strenuous physical training session. There was no pain but Sourav is keeping his options open.
“I’m recovering and improving everyday. There’s still 24 hours to go and let’s see how it goes…” Sourav said.
But one thing that has come as a big relief to the Indian skipper has been the return to form of the openers.
While Sourav is a little undecided over his five-bowler combination, Ponting is having a problem of plenty on his hands. The way the players have adjusted to the conditions and delivered the goods on this tour has even taken him by surprise.
“All 14 are available for selection. It will be very hard to finalise the team without having a look at the wicket,” the Australian skipper said.
Adam Gilchrist’s batting at the top has been a positive, Ponting conceded and a lot will depend on how the explosive opening pair deliver. Matthew Hayden has not really fired on all cylinders and the occasion might just inspire him to get the act right.
The approach of the two sides seemed vastly different on Monday. The Australians wore a relaxed look at the optional practice session. They seemed sure that they had done their preparations well and concentrated on sticking together as a group, the formula John Buchanan stresses on, and not focussing on too far ahead. They are sure of the opposition’s strengths and how to deal with every situation.
The Indians looked conscious of the consequence of the outcome. The sense of quiet confidence was evaporated by a tensed and serious look in some of the players.
This match is not just about winning the TVS Cup, this is about setting the standards for the series Down Under, the psychological advantage that is bound to act as a catalyst for the tougher battle ahead.
Greg Chappell firmly believes India have the resources and raw material to overtake the world champions and set benchmarks in world cricket. Only time will tell if the first steps in this direction will be laid at the Eden.
A full house, something that is going to enthuse the visitors as well, will be there to cherish every moment. This will be the time to deliver, to get the adrenaline flowing and also the test of skill and character.
This is also the hour of reckoning for the Indians, if they are to bury the ghost of March 23.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik, Avishkar Salvi/Anil Kumble.
Australia (from): Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, Michael Clarke, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken, Jimmy Maher, Michael Kasprowicz.
Umpires: David Shepherd and A. V. Jayaprakash.
TV umpire: K. Hariharan.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Hours of play: 2.30 pm — 6pm & 6.45 pm — 10.15 pm.