The Champions Trophy at least has the sound of one now. Wednesday will bring together world champions Australia and defending champions West Indies on a crumbling, contentious Brabourne Stadium track in a Group A encounter.
On Monday, New Zealand bowled South Africa out for 108 after themselves making just 195. The wicket was slow and turned more than the revolving restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel opposite the ground, sparking criticism from South African captain Graeme Smith, who called the wicket “not up to international standards”.
Taking into consideration the pitch, Australian captain Ricky Ponting revealed they could draft young off-spinner Dan Cullen in against the West Indians.
Ponting also made it clear that the in-form Shane Watson would open the innings with Adam Gilchrist and not Simon Katich by virtue of a better strike rate.
Watson also bowls fast medium-pace and will be the third seamer after spearheads Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath.
West Indies will be without fast bowler Corey Collymore. Collymore has returned home to be with his wife, who is expecting their first child.
This is the first group match that the two teams are playing. The West Indies, though, have played three qualifying games. That gives them the advantage of having had a feel of the conditions in match situations. Australia have only played practice games so far. None of them were at the Brabourne.
West Indies captain Brian Lara drew encouragement from this fact, not to mention their victory over the Kangaroos in the DLF Cup in Malaysia and their status as title-holders.
“We’ve played on this pitch before, they haven’t,” Lara said on Tuesday. “We’re the defending champions and we’ve defeated them in Kuala Lumpur. We’re going to do our best.”
Ponting said, “They’ve had tougher cricket under their belt compared to us in this tournament so far. But we’ve filmed the last two matches at this ground (South Africa vs New Zealand and West Indies vs Sri Lanka) and will learn from that. It’s all about adapting. We’ve had wins in all kind of conditions. The wicket in Malaysia, for instance, wasn’t batsman-friendly either.”
Asked for his views on the track, Lara was diplomatic. “Both teams have to play on the same pitch,” he said. “Besides, the Cricket Club of India has done its best to prepare a good wicket. We’ve analysed the situation. If we bat first, we would want to put up a total that is defendable.”
The statement would win Lara the ‘Saying the Obvious award’. But that is not what he would be looking for. The gifted Trinidadian would want runs on the board, unlike against Sri Lanka, when Farveez Maharoof cleaned up the his team for 80.
And Australia present a tougher challenge. In addition to the speed gang, they have slow bowlers like Brad Hogg and Michael Clarke (left-arm spin) and allrounder Andrew Symonds’ off spin.
As Ponting said, “Symonds and Clarke will be handy with the ball in these conditions.”
Australia’s rippling batting makes their prospects rosier. They have the contemptuous Adam Gilchrist and the capable Watson at the top. The unhesitant Ponting is at No. 3.
The hunger and versatility of the two Michaels, Hussey and Clarke, the elegance of Damien Martyn and the brute force of Symonds brings them within touching distance of impregnability.
If there’s anything that can stop well-lubed winning machines like Australia, it is unpredictability. Fortunately, from the point of view of the West Indies and the public, that is there in good measure for Wednesday’s contest.
It is in the wicket. It is in the West Indian side. The likes of Lara and the cockily casual Chris Gayle can tear a match away from the opposition if they hit their stride.
“There are two targets for us in this game, Gayle and Lara,” said Ponting.
Fans will be hoping that the Aussies don’t silence them too easily and they get to see a nice, salty confrontation.