| Sachin Tendulkar in Mohali on Saturday
Chandigarh: Before leaving for the match-eve nets in neighbouring Mohali, Saturday morning, the talismanic Sachin Tendulkar told a well-wisher “I’m hoping to be busy till November 5...” That, incidentally, is the Champions Trophy final date.
Not much later, India’s hopes of getting there took a mighty hit when Yuvraj Singh twisted his left knee in a warm-up session for the ‘quarter final’ against the No.1 team, Australia. A day earlier, a fractured left thumb took Ajit Agarkar out of the tournament.
If that was bad enough, Yuvraj’s non-availability has made it worse. The Indians have been struggling and both Agarkar and Yuvraj had the potential to ignite the spark that just hasn’t been there. Their absence means opportunities for others, but the thinktank is in somewhat of a fix.
The double blow, by all accounts, has proved a bit too much.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, till late in the evening, captain Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell (in particular) couldn’t make up their mind on whether Agarkar’s berth should go to replacement Sreesanth or Mohammed Kaif.
The UP captain will get the nod if there’s a consensus on strengthening the batting. Otherwise, Sreesanth (who arrived from Kochi via Bangalore and New Delhi) is going to make a comeback. “I know the circumstances are unusual, but I’m here by God’s grace and because of the good wishes of so many,” he pointed out.
Yuvraj’s slot is certain to be taken by another Chandigarh da puttar, Dinesh Mongia. In fact, he has been the Punjab captain and, so, the PCA Stadium in Mohali is his home ground. The match, by the way, will be played on the wicket which hosted New-Zealand Pakistan a few days ago. That surface produced big runs, unlike Friday’s wicket (South Africa versus Pakistan).
“The basic nature won’t change... The surface is bouncy... We’ve got to play good cricket... We need to win the key moments, do well in the critical stages... The guys have to stand up and be counted,” observed Dravid, who appears to be feeling the heat fuelled by lacklustre performances.
He added: “History shows that performances have won matches... The pressure is there, but we’ve got to create opportunities... It has to be enjoyed, not seen as a burden... It’s an opportunity to succeed, not fail... It’s the time to stamp authority and be remembered... Batting has been a problem, but if we go back to averaging what we did ten matches ago, then a lot of questions are going to be answered...”
Dravid didn’t seem impressed by the raging debate over Irfan Pathan getting the No.3 position and declined to specifically speak about deputy Virender Sehwag’s failures (“we can do better as a batting unit”). Clearly, it’s a cosy club and “opinions” don’t have to be given credence.
The question is: Is that the way forward'
It’s not insignificant, perhaps, that the Indians have won only once (back in January 2004) in the last ten completed matches against Australia. Just over a month ago, we needed to beat them in order to make the tri-series final in Kuala Lumpur, but the Australians were much too strong.
It’s a huge ask, really.
“The pressure is on India and the wicket will probably suit us more... I know we’ve never won the Champions Trophy and are desperate to do so this time...” is what Australian captain Ricky Ponting said. He acknowledged he’d been short on runs, but emphasised he’d worked hard over the past week.
Australia’s only worry (on the fitness front) is over Michael Clarke. He’s down with tonsillitis and may be replaced by Simon Katich.
Both teams have beaten England; both have lost to holders West Indies. The face-off is going to bring the curtain down on the league phase. A full house is expected for (potentially) the most throbbing match of the tournament.
India (likely): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Mongia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Rudra Pratap Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth/Mohammed Kaif.
Australia: (likely): Adam Gilchrist, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke/Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds, Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn McGrath.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Billy Bow- den; TV: Mark Benson.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Match starts: 2.30 pm.
DRAVID ON THE MOTERA DRESSING-DOWN
Team India captain Rahul Dravid had something to say, Saturday, about the very public dressing-down given by coach Greg Chappell to the players on the eve of the last match (against the West Indies), in Motera...
“It happens in sports... You say things which are taken out of context... It was a very private conversation which was heard and used out of context... People eavesdropped and used it (in the Media)... I wouldn’t do it... Without understanding, a lot of things get assumed... It’s (a sign of) the times we live in... Such conversations keep happening...”