Hyderabad: Two matches into the Future Cup, the magnitude of the task facing India looks as imposing as the Himalayas. Given Australia’s intimidating record against the hosts, the form of their batsmen and Team India’s inability to forge partnerships, it will take a huge effort from Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to do justice to their newly acquired status and reputation.
India’s promise to play tough and competitive cricket in this series hasn’t turned into reality yet. Events off the field have gained prominence in their struggle to rediscover the form shown in South Africa.
If the rain came as a welcome relief in Bangalore, there was no escape in Kochi. In both games, though, India had Australia under pressure but failed to go for the jugular.
To compound problems, doubts persisted over Sourav Ganguly’s fitness ahead of Friday’s match at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, while Ricky Ponting looked set to be back in the XI. The former India captain, who missed the second ODI because of a hamstring strain, did bat and bowl at nets on Thursday but wasn’t sure of playing.
“There has been considerable improvement… But the stiffness hasn’t completely gone. Let’s wait and see how it shapes up on the morning of the match,” Sourav told The Telegraph.
The Australian captain had nets on Wednesday and Thursday, and came through well. “I’m hoping to play tomorrow. Everything is looking positive for me at the moment. There are a few other things with the physio and the physical trainer… If I get through that I will be up for selection,” said Ponting.
Nathan Bracken, whose wife gave birth to their first child back home the other day, joined the squad and will be a part of the visitors’ scheme of things. “Bracken is probably on the same boat as I am… We will assess him at nets and then decide whether he is ready to go into the game or not,” said Ponting.
Bracken, though, said he was ready for the challenge. “I had a good time back home with my wife and our baby boy. The important thing is to get into the thick of things as quickly as possible. It is about adapting to the conditions,” said the left-arm seamer.
The visitors hoped to cash in on the 1-0 lead. “Momentum is a wonderful thing in sport. We have the momentum going our way. It is really important for us to capitalise on that and not take little things for granted. We batted well in both the games, making over 300 runs. We were four for 90 in Bangalore and three down pretty early in Kochi. We managed to fight back well with some excellent batting,” said Ponting.
“It is important we start from stratch again tomorrow (Friday)… Continue to build on the things we have started. The last thing you want to do is hand the momentum straight back to the opposition.
“With the injuries we had in the World Twenty20, it has been a while since we had a fully fit squad. Nathan’s inclusion will obviously be terrific. In the last couple of years, he has been as good as anyone else,” Ponting added.
The Indians are aware that any slip-up here can be disastrous. “Things haven’t gone our way. The Australians planned and executed their strategy well. But it will be a new day and a new game. A new ball game… Hopefully…” said vice-captain Yuvraj Singh.
The wicket promises to be a belter and the Indians are unlikely to make the mistake of batting second. Intermittent showers have been forecast during on match day. It did not rain on Thursday, but remained cloudy throughout.
The hosts could effect a change or two in the XI that lost in Kochi. If Sourav is available, Gautam Gambhir will have to sit out. Rudra Pratap Singh’s inclusion is also being considered.
Yuvraj was quick to acknowledge that nothing worked as planned in Kochi. “We didn’t have good partnerships… didn’t do well in any department. There’s still five more games to go. A lot will depend on how we perform tomorrow. Everyone has a job to do and we will have to play to our potential.”
With no love lost between the teams, the contest could truly boil over.
India (from): Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir/Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Rudra Pratap Singh
Australia (from): Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Brad Hodge, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Brad Haddin, James Hopes, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Nathan Bracken, Mitchell Johnson
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Suresh Shastri. TV: G.A. Pratapkumar
Match Referee: Chris Broad
Match starts: 9am