| Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. India will open their campaign in the tri-series against the West Indies on Thursday. (PTI) Australia, West Indies ODI career stats on Page 10
Kuala Lumpur: Cricket has, in the past few weeks, seen extraordinary happenings.
From a blast in Colombo (which unnerved the South Africans and cancelled a tri-series) to the forfeiture of a Test and Darrell Hair’s correspondence with the International Cricket Council... On a smaller scale, even Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s omission from the list of contenders for the most envied annual awards...
Each event has taken something away from the game, but the boundaries keep growing: Come Tuesday, when the DLF Cup gets underway, the Malaysian capital will become the 161st venue for ODIs. Kuala Lumpur did host the 1998 Commonwealth Games, when cricket was a medal-sport, but the runs and wickets then didn’t enter anybody’s official records.
The meet has been conceived by the Board of Control for Cricket in India and is going to be conducted by Cricket Australia, but the locals should be top gainers. Indeed, match No. 1 is between current masters Australia and the one-time unbeatables — West Indies.
The Indians don’t get into the act, at the Kinrara Oval (which, with its temporary stands for a mere 5,000-odd, is almost 25 kms from the team hotel), till Thursday.
Much of the attention that day will, no doubt, be on the ‘duel’ between West Indies captain Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. The latter didn’t tour the Caribbean this summer and, so, it has been quite a while — over four years — since the two came up against each other.
In the larger war, that’s one ‘battle’ which just can’t go unnoticed.
Sachin, by the way, is so focused on what has become his comeback tournament (after two cancellations in Sri Lanka) that he declined to speak even about good friend Michael Schumacher’s decision to retire.
Talking of the opener, the Australians are coming off a four-and-half month break, while the West Indies’ last ODI was in end-May. More recently, there was another contracts dispute in the West Indies. The Australians, on the other hand, were preparing for a demanding physical and mental examination.
Even if some had misgivings early on, everybody came away (from the Sunshine Coast) singing praises of coach John Buchanan. It’s to be seen how effective that ‘Boot Camp’ really was, but Ricky Ponting believes he and the rest have come out “better cricketers.”
The captain didn’t have to, but observed that Buchanan’s contribution had been “overlooked.” Also, that the coach was responsible for the (high) quality of cricket played by Australia.
A long lay-off coupled with the capital city’s heat and humidity could affect the best, but Ponting was quick to declare, on Monday afternoon, that his team’s “skills” won’t get affected. “We won’t set the world on fire tomorrow, but slowly feel our way...”
The Australians are going to mix-and-match in the league stage (four matches). However, if they make the final, then the best XI — minus Adam Gilchrist — will be out on the park The squad is 18-strong.
It’s no surprise that the Australians have “high expectations” from Glenn McGrath, who took a break early in the year when wife Jane got diagnosed with breast cancer. “He’s fit and has worked very hard,” Ponting remarked.
[Talking to The Telegraph, McGrath said his wife was “better” and that he was himself feeling “good.” The champion bowler, who is making another comeback, certainly looked relaxed.]
The Australians are going to pick from 15 as Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey and Brad Hogg have been placed among the reserves for match No. 1. Simon Katich and Phil Jacques will open.
Meanwhile, like his counterparts, Lara is looking at the latest tri-series as a “warm-up” for the Champions Trophy. The West Indies, though, must get past the qualifiers. Well, the captain is confident.
“We’ve won nine of the last ten ODIs, but all were at home... This (meet) gives us an opportunity to see how well we travel,” Lara pointed out. For the record, Ponting described the opposition as an “improving” team.
While the Australians remain at the top, the No. 3 spot is held by India. The West Indies are way down, in the seventh position. However, rankings don’t always tell the full story.
Australia: (from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Nathan Bracken, Mark Cosgrove, Daniel Cullen, Stuart Clark, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Phil Jaques, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath and Shane Watson
West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Runako Morton, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Carlton Baugh, Corey Collymore, Fidel Edwards, Ian Bradshaw, Jerome Taylor, Marlon Samuels, Wavell Hinds.
Umpires: Mark Benson, Asad Rauf. TV: Tony Hill.
Match Referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts: 12 noon (IST).
No reserve days
Inclement weather isn’t unexpected at this time of the year, but there are no reserve days. It didn’t rain at the Kinrara Oval on Monday evening, but it was pouring in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
BRIAN LARA ON QUALIFYING AND SACHIN
Brian Lara feels “let down” that the West Indies — despite being defending champions — have to qualify for the International Cricket Council-conducted Champions Trophy, to be hosted by India in October-November.
“It’s disappointing, I feel let down,” is how the captain put it on Monday evening.
The West Indies, it may be recalled, failed to be ranked in the top-six by the cut-off date and, so, must play three qualifying matches — versus Zimbabwe (Motera, October 8), Bangladesh (Jaipur, October 11) and Sri Lanka (Mumbai, October 14).
Two of the four teams will make it.
While Lara is cut up about the qualifying issue, he’s delighted that Sachin Tendulkar is back. “He has played little cricket in the last two years and I’m waiting with bated breath... I opened with him in a charity game (in England) and cherish that moment... It was special...”
Our Special Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur