Australia came here to set their dismal Champions Trophy record straight, and not treat the tournament as preparation for the crucial Ashes series against England.
But, as luck would have it, they find themselves face to face with their traditional foes in a match that could well knock the loser out of the tournament. The complexion of Saturday’s match here at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium changed dramatically the moment the West Indies pulled off a sensational victory over the world champions in Mumbai two days ago.
And given the situation both teams find themselves in, there is every possibility that the Jaipur crowd could witness additional fireworks on Diwali.
However, for Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, the failure of his batsmen to chase down a low score of 234 against the West Indies and the evening dew has put him in a dilemma over the team composition against England.
Adam Gilchrist’s 92 was the only positive Australia took from their last outing against the Caribbeaners. The Australian wicketkeeper, who is making his return after a six-month lay-off, looked set to take the game away from the Windies, before he fell at a crucial moment.
Apart from Michael Clarke late in the order, no other batsman applied himself in difficult conditions as the Aussies crashed to a 10-run defeat. The heavy dew in Jaipur has had a major role in deciding the outcome of the matches played here so far. In the last game here, Muttiah Muralitharan’s inability to grip the ball in the Pakistan innings cost Sri Lanka dear as some lusty hitting by the Pak late-order batsmen took the game away from the Lankans.
Apart from that, however, the track here seems to be completely dry and even light showers on Friday morning have hardly made too much of a difference.
Despite the visible cracks on the wicket, there is every possibility that Australia go in with just one spinner on Saturday. With Shane Watson failing to impress at the top in the last match, the biggest question is, however, who will partner Gilchrist in the opening slot.
Ponting admitted that it was time for his batsmen to stand up and be counted. “The bowlers have done well for us. But it’s about time the batsmen put runs on the board,” he said, adding: “There is no problem with the wickets. We have played on some great pitches.”
England, similarly, have been saved from complete embarrassment by their bowlers, who managed to impress against India after their batsmen put up a meagre total on the board.
In his second spell, pace spearhead Stephen Harmison, backed by some accurate spin bowling by Jamie Dalrymple and Michael Yardy, gave the team some confidence before this crucial game.
But skipper Flintoff’s absence from the bowling attack is proving difficult to fill. There is a possibility that Kevin Pietersen would be asked to open the innings, with Flintoff almost certain to follow at number three. Ponting, however, does not seem too perturbed by the possibility of the Englishmen coming at them right from the word go.
“We believe that if we can have a crack and get them early with the new ball, they will be left with limited options at the end,” said Ponting, adding that the new ball has swung quite a bit during this tournament. “Our bowlers are looking forward to that challenge,” he added.