Australia did a Lewis Hamilton in Chandigarh, skidding out and losing a chance of victory. India, like Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, pounced on the opportunity.
The result? The Future Cup one-day international series is still open, just like the Formula One season. Thursday’s fifth match at the charming Reliance Stadium here will decide whether India draw level at 2-2 or fall back 1-3. Their fortunes would hinge on their ability to combat the brawn identity of the Australian team - Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds, both around six feet two, both destructive.
Australia are renowned for their depth and the number of players who can win a match. But in this series, it has mostly been just the two who have made a difference.
In four innings, Hayden has punched 261 runs and Symonds 258. If India are able to tame them on Thursday, they would enhance their chances of equalising the series.
Asked how India could stop the two, left-arm spinner Murali Kartik said here on Wednesday, “Take them away and lock them in a room.” “Nah,” the man who got Hayden in Chandigarh continued. “We’ve been trying. We’ve been persisting with plans for them. You have got to give it to them. They are good players and are going through a good patch. It will stop someday. Hopefully, tomorrow.”
Wait a minute. Did not Symonds and Hayden score in Chandigarh? And did not India still win? True. A good score, then good bowling and fielding in the end overs helped the hosts register their first victory over the world champions in more than three years. Winning the toss and batting first worked in India’s favour as well. No team has chased successfully in the series so far. So India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni would want to win the toss and bat first again.
The wicket has some of the redness of a tennis clay court in Europe and therefore looks different to the pale strips seen so far in the contest. It has high batting compatibility, though Kartik hoped it would afford spinners some scope.
“I haven’t seen the pitch today but have played here quite a few times for India or Central Zone,” said Kartik, back in the Indian team after 20 months. “Most of them were high-scoring matches. Hopefully, it would take some spin later on.”
Irfan Pathan, playing in his hometown, must also wish the track and the conditions aid his type of bowling. Enjoying a revival since the World Twenty20, Irfan chose to opt out of Wednesday’s optional practice, taking some well-earned rest instead.
India have been playing with different combinations in almost every match. The opening pair has changed a few times and so has the bowling grid. In fact, the slow bowling department has done well since the third match in Hyderabad. That should have a bearing on the eleven we see on the field on Thursday.
Those curious about the Next Generation of Indian cricket would want S Badrinath to get a chance. The Tamil Nadu batsman, soaring on the Sensex of domestic cricket, has taken the place of the injured Gautam Gambhir. But he might have to stay on the sidelines. Unless the out of touch Rahul Dravid is rested or India go in with four bowlers instead of five. But given Vadodara’s heat, batting wicket and the need to restrict the Australian scoring machine, India would need their full bowling strength.
Australia’s arsenal still makes them the favourites but India, as Kartik, said have the momentum. They have not beaten Australia in two successive matches in six years. But momentum can be wonderful.