It has been called the final before the final, and so it promises to be.
The two teams famous for epic clashes in international cricket in the last decade will meet in the World Cup quarter-final at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad on Thursday: MS Dhoni’s India, seeking to fulfill a billion dreams, and Ricky Ponting’s Australia, anxious to keep to themselves the trophy they have won the last three times.
Sachin Tendulkar would, today, want to get a step closer to winning the one title he wants badly, and Ponting would want to smoothen his way towards lifting the Cup for the third successive time as captain.
The Tendulkar-Brett Lee battle could acquire its sharpest-ever edge, and the Ponting-Harbhajan contest could be stiffer than ever before.
India start off as favourites at home. Australia look vulnerable, having suffered their first defeat in a World Cup game after 34 matches a few days ago. But the Australians, still the No. 1 team in one-day cricket, have dominated their rivals in the group stages better than the Indians have. They could lift their performance and use the burden of expectation against the home side. Ponting has said he has a pace antidote to India’s spin. Yet, Dhoni’s men will fancy their chances.
More than skills, though, it will be a battle of nerves today; and at the end of the day, we’ll know whose dream is still alive: that of Tendulkar and a billion Indians, or that of a beleagured Ponting.