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India's task gets tough vs Oz

"Losing's not nice," murmured Dravid on Saturday, ahead of India?s biggest game in recent times, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2006 14:26 IST

"Losing's not nice,” murmured Rahul Dravid on Saturday, ahead of what will be India’s biggest game in recent times.

Well, the world’s not always a nice place and the Indian skipper, who seemed out of sorts (not surprisingly) while facing the media, will probably feel a lot worse on the morrow unless his players come up with something special.

And straight off, with the dramatic loss of Yuvraj Singh, last year’s top run-getter in One-day cricket and a vital cog in any Indian plan, Dravid will be at a massive disadvantage.

For on Sunday, India meet Australia in a match that will see the winner move into the Champions Trophy semifinal, under conditions that will be more to the world champions’ liking than their own.

The wicket they will play on is not the wickedly seaming one used in the Pakistan-South Africa game on Friday but, as Dravid said, the basic nature of a track cannot be changed.

The bounce and the carry will be there and if there is a fair bit of movement too on Sunday, then India, especially on form, will need at least one person to play an outstanding knock and a couple of others to back up in style to even think of a win.

It won’t be easy unless Australia play out of character and collapse.

Otherwise, it never is while playing the world’s most consistent team under any conditions. And then, as Ricky Ponting stated when the Oz juggernaut first landed in India, they want this crown quite badly.

The mini World Cup is the only trophy to have eluded Australia, who have otherwise swept all before them as they have marched across the world with a missionary zeal and some ruthless professionalism.

Incidentally, if India do not make it to the last four, then this will be the first time since the inaugural World Cup in 1975 that an Asian team has not made it to the semifinal of a major event. And ironically, it would be in the subcontinent.

Coming back to the game, for all that this might mean to the wizards of Oz, for India, under fire for a lacklustre season so far, with the World Cup around the corner and with their batsmen (for the most) seeming to be in a collective depression, winning this match should mean much, much more.

There is the fact that they are playing at home and for them and the home crowd, it is up close and personal. Then, there is the fact that if they don’t pull themselves out of whatever mental morass they are meandering through quickly enough, they could well dig themselves in too deeply during the forthcoming tour of South Africa — where the tracks will obviously be made to suit the African pacemen —  for a rescue to be effected before the World Cup.

But things don’t look so good at the moment and if body language is any indicator of how a team is, then India are in the midst of a serious downer. Their final nets on Saturday took place sans spirit.

The chatter and banter was missing, as was the zing, and they seemed to be going through the motions almost robotically — run, jump, bowl, bat, catch and repeat it.

The only thing of note was Sachin Tendulkar’s being hit in the box by a Munaf Patel delivery. Tendulkar immediately sat down on his haunches a while, got up with a grimace, faced a couple of deliveries from Dinesh Mongia and then walked out of the nets and sat down again. Hopefully, it will mean nothing.

On the general body language again, perhaps they were just being serious and focussed, watched throughout by the selectors, sundry officials, a huge media turnout and any number of hangers-on, and we’re reading too much into it.

On the other hand, practice sessions and the formbook are thrown out of the window from time to time. The beauty of sport lies in its unpredictability, in the performances that both delight and inspire because they have come against the odds and in the face of tremendous adversity.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Indian players will give us one of those magical moments on Sunday.

Hope springs eternal.