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Exorcising the ‘hosts’

cricket Updated: Feb 17, 2008 01:51 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The time has come for things to take shape. The Commonwealth Bank tri-series is at the halfway stage and the next set of matches should make it clear who stands where in terms of making it to the business end.

Australia are on top despite the odd niggle, India are fully fit, raring to go and hoping to dump Sri Lanka. To make things beautifully uncertain, all three have a theoretical chance of making the finals.

Round Three starts with a clash between India and Australia on Sunday and the hosts are in a disadvantageous position in a way. Brett Lee has been rested and it's not clear whether Michael Clarke will play after being struck on the ribs by Lasith Malinga in Perth on Friday.

These two have been the cornerstones of their team in this competition so far, Lee's lack of success in terms of wickets notwithstanding. He did go for a few runs as well, but the impact his searing pace made was hard to ignore.

Equally unmistakable is the way Clarke is going about his job and holding the middle-order together at a time when his senior pros are not contributing much.

However, that shouldn't make much of a difference to the task India have at hand. The batting has shown signs of coming good and it's now a question of translating the starts into a big total irrespective of chasing or setting a target.

The pitch is the best for batting that Australia can offer and with a few in their ranks promising big things, the Indians must bat with the kind of authority they show back home.

The visitors got handy starts in two of the four matches and also, some encouraging partnerships. To beat Australia again, they must ensure that this department gets going while hoping that Yuvraj Singh shakes off the rust that has held him back on this tour. Contributions from other quarters can assume bigger proportions if the left-handed powerhouse gets his act right.

It's surprising, but India's impressive showing has been largely because of the quick bowlers. Ishant Sharma got most of the wickets and with them the accolades, but the pace worked up by Sreesanth can't be ignored. He has swung the ball alarmingly too and not much should be read into the fact that he went for 48 in three overs against Sri Lanka in Canberra.

The most serious and threatening at the nets, Sreesanth looks extra eager to prove that he is not all about staring at batsmen or fancy hairdos.

The pitch will entice batsmen, but as was seen in Melbourne, early wickets can make a big difference. From that point of view, India's future in this tournament depends a lot on the bowlers. Australia never recovered from those initial shocks in that game and even though conditions here are different, the fast bowlers will still have a new ball against a batting order that is suddenly showing signs of frailty. If India get one of the openers, they can fancy their chances against the rest.

There must have been a mental block when it came to taking on Australia, but the way this inexperienced attack dismantled their batting last Sunday, that should be out of the way by now. And even though India struggled, the batsmen did finally reach the target on that day.

A win always breathes confidence into a side. This team has done it once. There's no reason why they shouldn't fancy their chances again.