Lost in the Aussie maze
Some of the Indian players watched Bhool Bhulaiyaa in Nagpur on Friday night. Their fans would hope the movie taught them ways to sort out the maze that is Australia.
The two teams meet in Nagpur at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium on Sunday in the penultimate match of the Future Cup on Sunday. Leading 3-1, Australia only need a victory to wrap the series up. But India can salvage their reputation by winning in Nagpur and in Mumbai three days later to share the series 3-3.
However, that seems an improbable task. In its current mood, the Australian cricket machine appears clean of weakness. They are mentally, physically, bowlingly, battingly, fieldingly superior.
The unstoppable Matthew Hayden has injured his hip and whether he plays will be decided only on Sunday. Even if he doesn't, India cannot relax. His possible replacement, Brad Haddin, tormented the hosts in the first two matches with consecutive fifties.
India's victory over Australia in the World Twenty20 championship and their brash posturing after the title has awakened Aussie pride. The racist remarks made by the Vadodara crowd against Andrew Symonds on Thursday will make them more determined.
Going by the way Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh batted in the nets on Friday, the Indians will not be holding back be going for it on Sunday.
It was full-on aggression from the two. Dhoni, especially, slammed nearly half a dozen sixes.
At the start of the series, the Indian bowlers copped the flak. In three matches in a row, they allowed Australia to reach big totals after starting well in the first two. But since the collapse in the last game, it is the batsmen who are under the scanner. Early wickets and the unsettling pace and swing of Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee had rendered the Indian batting - bar Sachin Tendulkar - incapable in Vadodara.
While not in as much of a funk as Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj, star of the T20 campaign and a bulwark of the 'new India', hasn't been at his best. Yes, he scored a gallant century in Hyderabad. But in the other matches, he has disappointed. Dhoni has two fifties to his name, but after the failure on Thursday, he too is due for a better showing. The fans, a good number of whom attended its net session, must hope that at least Tendulkar's good form continues.
Kishore Pradhan, the chief curator, has rolled out a wicket that will smile at the batsmen and might tango with the faster bowlers in the morning. So the match is likely to produce heaping totals.
Discussion over the wicket led to contradictory statements from Zaheer Khan on Saturday. Explaining the inability of the Indian bowlers to cause any worry to the likes of Hayden and Andrew Symonds, the seamer said, "We are playing in the sub-continent. What else do you expect?" In the same press conference, he said, " Too much is being made about the wickets. It does not matter what kind of wicket is there. We have to go out and perform."
In more analytical moments, Zaheer, who turned 29 on October 7 but has received no birthday gifts from the Australians, admitted that India needed to get early wickets and do better in the Powerplays. "We need to get early wickets to make inroads and put pressure on them. We did that in Chandigarh. There's no reason why we can't do it tomorrow," he said.
Hmm. There is a reason and it's called Hayden (if he plays) and Symonds. But dreaming never hurt anyone.