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Oz, India begin final countdown

Friday?s game is a semi-final of sorts, reports C Shekhar Luthra. Do you believe WI avoided facing Australia?

india Updated: Sep 22, 2006 01:57 IST

The West Indian decision to use the last game against India as an opportunity to experiment with their batting order (and perhaps give themselves a chance to avoid facing Australia in the final!) meant that India won a game they were not expected to. It also meant that Friday’s game against Australia is now virtually a semi-final of sorts. India have six points to Australia’s seven and weather permitting, the winner takes all — in this case, a berth in the final. If it rains of course, then India go home.

From a larger perspective, even though India have looked out of sorts, all three teams have treated this tournament as a preparatory camp for the Champions Trophy. They have all rotated players at will, run them up and down the batting order, and experimented at a level not really witnessed before in international cricket.

Of the match itself, this will be the first time that five of India’s frontline players — Suresh Raina, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth and MS Dhoni — will be pitting their skills against the toughest team in the world.

Another factor that has been bothering the Indian side for quite a while now is the downward slide in the form of Irfan Pathan. In view of Pathan’s inability to fit in as the main strike bowler, India were forced to play an extra bowler in their last league game against the West Indies.

Rahul Dravid admitted as much. “Pathan’s form with the ball is worrying for us. With his fine batting ability, we had the option of packing our team with an extra batsman. But now that he is struggling with his bowling, we sometimes are forced to go a batsman short,” said Dravid on Thursday.

Dravid’s concern was obvious after looking at his batsmen’s performance in the last two games here. Only in their first game against the West Indies did India put up a sizeable total and that was largely due to a fine century from Sachin Tendulkar. The rest have looked completely out of sorts. India lost their top five bats for just 35 against Australia, and five wickets for 69 in the second Windies game. Only Tendulkar has stayed put, the rest have treated this like an extended holiday.

Pathan isn’t alone in his misery. Raina’s inability to perform on the big stage should also be worrying India. In the last 10 one-dayers against England and the West Indies earlier this year, when Raina has got an opportunity to bat, he’s not really had a single memorable innings. Scores of 46, 6, 7 not out, 27, 26, 7, 2, 34, 1 not out and 11 make denying a chance to the experienced Dinesh Mongia a debatable decision.

Anyway, tomorrow is a new day. And who knows, perhaps the day’s rest given to Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar (both missed practice on Thursday) could work for them and India. Something’s got to give.