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The big guns will blaze early

This is one match-up both the contestants would have liked to avoid right at the start of the knockout stage as the world's No. 1 and 2 ODI teams face each other in the round of eight, something even the organisers wouldn't have preferred, but that's the way the dice has rolled. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports.Hits & Misses

cricket Updated: Mar 22, 2011 01:42 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

This is one match-up both the contestants would have liked to avoid right at the start of the knockout stage. The world's No. 1 and 2 ODI teams facing each other in the round of eight is something even the organisers wouldn't have preferred, but that's the way the dice has rolled.

It's exactly a decade since India and Australia became fierce rivals, since that summer of 2001. In the 50-over format, Australia won the series in India in 2007 and 2009 with India taming the kangaroos in their own backyard in 2008. To square things off, India won the short series at home last year. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/22_03_11-metro-21.jpg

Now, it's a question of a one-off game.

The shootout scheduled for Thursday will either send the great Indian dream crashing or unseat Australia from the throne reserved for world champions. It's unwise to explore what will cause the eventual outcome, but there will be some key battles within the war nonetheless.

Pace vs India

No doubt Australia would unleash their pace trio against the batsmen who know better than others how to succeed in these conditions. In all likelihood, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson will target the rib-cage of the formidable opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. They will try to cram them for room, push them to the backfoot and slip in the fuller ones as surprise.

Not that the Indian batsmen are unaccustomed to such strategies, but this will be one stern test until the new ball loses shine. Once they see through this period, Sehwag & Co can look to make most of the weak links in the Australian attack, their slower bowlers. The first few overs can make or break hopes still.

Spin vs Australia

As seen in the practice match between the two teams in Bangalore on February 13, India are certain to try and put Australia in a spin. The hosts will let loose an assortment of spinners, regular and irregular, and play the waiting game by taking the pace off the ball.

They would pray for some assistance from the pitch as well to catch Ricky Ponting's men on the wrong foot.

Dhoni vs Ponting

This duel has not become as famous as the one between Sourav Ganguly and Steve Waugh yet, but Ponting has some bitter memories of taking on MS Dhoni the captain. After the ODI triumph in Australia, Dhoni led India to two Test wins against them in 2008, followed by the Test and ODI series win last year.

Ponting has just the ODI success of 2009 to show for, from all his run-ins with Dhoni.

If not anything else, the build-up to the latest face-off will keep fans in both the nations anxious over the next two days.