| Ricky Ponting in Vadodara on Wednesday
Vadodara: Not that the Australians take any match lightly, but having got a jolt in Chandigarh, they’ve begun to sharpen their claws even more.
So much so that in the lead-up to the fifth ODI, captain Ricky Ponting went to the extent of declaring “it’s a finals game for us... Generally, when the bigger ones come around, the Australian team plays its best cricket... We’ll be playing our best tomorrow (Thursday)...”
The visitors have a 2-1 lead in the Future Cup and victory at the Reliance Stadium — traditionally a happy hunting ground for India — is going to ensure they can’t lose the series. It’s much like a final for the hosts as well.
Momentum has its place in sport, but what could really bring the best out of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co. is Ponting’s charge that the Indians have been “faking” aggression.
Like it or not, the Indians have become touchy. More so when the opponents are Australians, who’ve raised on-field aggression too to quite another level.
It would be ironical if that comment actually encourages the Indians to do even better than in the fourth ODI. Ponting’s agenda had been to belittle, but the risk of a backfire is high.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, most of the Indians have been fuming and are itching to script a suitable reply on a day when much of the attention will no doubt be on Sachin Tendulkar.
Cricket’s senior-most pro is, after all, going to make his 400th appearance. Whatever the yardstick, it’s no ordinary milestone. It’s awesome, really.
Ponting is, of course, hoping Sachin “doesn’t score many.” He did wish him well, though. “It’s a fantastic achievement and a tribute to his longevity... Congratulations to Sachin...”
Till late on Wednesday, indications were that both teams would retain the XI which did duty in Chandigarh. Rohit Sharma is an option, but it’s most likely that the XI which pulled off a thrilling win on Monday won’t be disturbed.
“Jeetna hai,” comeback man Murali Kartik, who had an excellent summer at Middlesex, told the media on Wednesday afternoon.
Made to represent Team India at the customary pre-match session, he articulately added: “It’s about momentum and persisting with plans... Everybody can be stopped, it’s just that (Matthew) Hayden and (Andrew) Symonds are going through a great patch... The Australians love to get on top, love to have their leg on you... We’ve got to get that leg away...”
Talking of his comeback, after 20 months, Kartik said: “I didn’t feel any pressure (in Chandigarh)... I’m past that stage... Today, I just enjoy what I’m doing and don’t worry... Age teaches a lot...”
The left-arm spinner, who made his India debut in early 2000, is 31.
It’s to be seen whether Dhoni continues with smart moves such as promoting vice-captain Yuvraj Singh and himself, but Hayden and Symonds have to be evicted early. They’ve already helped themselves to 519 off the Indian attack, with the burly Hayden getting three more (261) than his fishing partner.
“They are intimidating players... Both are six feet tall and both tend to get down the wicket a bit and put the bowlers under some pressure... They are terrific and we need them to keep scoring if we’re to win the series...
“More important, it’s up to me and a few of the other guys in the middle-order to start scoring as well. If we do that, we should be right in the game,” was Ponting’s rather candid observation.
Strategies are bound to be fine-tuned overnight, but despite the moisture factor, it’s inconceivable that the captain winning the toss won’t bat first.
Tall scores (and a packed house) have been the order in previous ODIs. That shouldn’t change.
India: Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Zaheer Khan, Rudra Pratap Singh.
Australia: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Brad Hodge, James Hopes, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken, Mitchell Johnson.
Umpires: Aleem Dar, Amish Saheba; TV: Suresh Shastri.
Match Referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts: 9.00 am.