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India ready for the final march

A win against Australia will ensure a berth in the finals, but their batting remains a concern, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Feb 24, 2008 02:09 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times

Having started the tri-series with two washouts in Brisbane, India will be looking forward to end the league phase of the competition in sunny conditions. Things are looking brighter on the game front as well — India are practically a win away from a berth in the finals. That's is not a pre-condition either, but that's not what this team can afford to think of.

Preparations for their penultimate league match started in all seriousness on Saturday, although the absence of adequate local bowlers at the nets meant the part-time bowlers in the squad had to work overtime to ensure everyone managed to get a decent knock around.

A win against Australia on Sunday will put India in the finals, unless Sri Lanka notch up successive victories, with bonus points. Apart from the points, recent memories of playing against Australia at this historic ground will also spur the Indians on. This is where cricket took a nasty turn, and many Indian players still think they got a raw deal during the second Test. "Scars remain, no doubt. I can tell you it's not going to be very friendly out there," said a player.

Batting worries skipper

Although high on confidence, the Indian skipper admitted on Saturday that batting was a concern. Several of his teammates had been asked this question in the last few days and all had said no worries. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni said he wasn't exactly happy with the performance of the top-order.

"Batting-wise, what we've done so far has been in bits and pieces. We need to do the job collectively and more consistently. The bowlers are doing their job & covering up some of the shortcomings we are having at the moment. We have to bat according to the situation & change our style if needed," he said.

Dhoni cited his own example to emphasise the point. "It's difficult to change the way you play but it has to be done if that is the need. “I'm not playing big shots and trying to rotate the strike because it doesn't matter how the runs come, as long as they do. If I can score some at a good pace without taking risks, what's wrong with that?"

How many bowlers?

The other dilemma India face is how many bowlers to play. They went in with five specialists in the last two matches and the results were good because neither Australia nor Sri Lanka could post big totals. The problem is that four of those five were medium-pacers and the pitch here is known to assist spin.

But Dhoni sounded keen on five bowlers because "it gives us the option of chasing a lesser total". He argued that an extra batsman comes in handy while chasing but "we can keep the opposition from getting a big one if we field an extra bowler, since the runs the additional batsman will get will be given away by the part-time bowlers".

He also said that was the reason behind leaving out Virender Sehwag. "There is no question of dropping him if we field four bowlers. Since we opted for five, we had to leave him out. It's a very difficult decision, more difficult than it sounds, but you have to take tough calls."

Sehwag may come in

But this may change on Sunday. Dhoni refused to comment on the surface, saying he hadn't taken a proper look, but Sehwag had a long session in the nets. The intensity he showed suggested that he had got certain signals. Also, if India plan to play an extra spinner, Sehwag can provide that option.

It's unlikely Harbhajan Singh will be left out and Piyush Chawla’s inexperience in Australia may go against him.

Lee back, Johnson rested

In keeping with their decision to rotate fast bowlers, Australia left out Mitchell Johnson. The bad news is that Brett Lee is back. Like India, Australia's batsmen have struggled, but their bowlers have risen to the occasion repeatedly.