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Test of three

Exuberant India looking forward to challenges in the first of the best-of-three finals today. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. Sachin is hopeful: see video
Hindustan Times | By Atreyo Mukhopadhyay, Sydney
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2008 12:50 AM IST

Saturday was bright and sunny, the Indian players went through their paces ahead of the first of the best-of-three finals and things looked as perfect as they could have. There was this odd talk on the controversies gone by and the repercussions they may still have but for a change, it looked as if the game was going to hold centrestage in the next few days and the not its nasty offshoots.

For all those dying to prove a point, the time has come. Be it the younger crop of players in the Indian side or the seasoned ones, batsmen or bowlers, they all are facing a test clearing which will result in a lot of everything - endorsements, fame, hero worship among other things. This is the last edition of the tri-series Down Under and India have never won it despite reaching the finals in three of their five previous appearances.

Given that this Indian team is bent on charting its own course in the toughest of situations a contemporary cricket team will come across, and that in patches it has shown it has the mettle to do that, there is reason to be hopeful, of a strong fight at least. But before that, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team must sort out its internal dynamics in order to mount a successful challenge to the might and muscle of Australia.

Pace or spin?
It's often said that a captain spoilt for choice is a fortunate one. Strictly by definition then, the India captain is in that position. He can't make up his mind whether to play five bowlers in the first place and if five bowlers, then how many medium-pacers? "It's confusing," Dhoni said on Saturday. "We have to decide how many bowlers and if five, then see whether it's four-one or three-two (pace-spin). It's a tough call."

Dhoni said it with his characteristic smile alright, but that is certain to transform into a crease on the forehead when he actually makes the decision. Sydney is a venue known to assist slower bowlers and against the same team exactly a week back, this set of bowlers had done appreciably to ensure India chased 318 instead of something above 350. So what has changed in the space of a week that he is talking about four medium-pacers?

Praveen Kumar's success in Hobart on Tuesday means that he can't be left out. And if he is to be accommodated, then who to leave out, given that Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma are certainties? It would certainly have been the fourth medium-pacer had this question come up before the start of this competition, but these days, Virender Sehwag has become dispensable with the team opting for five bowlers.

Nothing wrong with that, especially on a good batting pitch like the one here, but it has to be remembered that at this very ground, Sehwag had done a brilliant containing job after the quicker ones went for plenty. By leaving him out, India will go in with five bowlers, but unless the fifth one is Piyush Chawla, they will be short on one slow bowler. Lack of pace had come in handy here and doing away with it might be a tricky call.

Some comfort points
For a team that started the tri-series with grave concerns over batting and suffered because of the frailties in the top-order, India have found something encouraging at last. All of them barring Sehwag have come up with at least one knock over 50 and more importantly, looked good in the middle from time to time. With the bowlers delivering more often than not, this must be reducing the skipper's headaches considerably.

To win, a team has to take wickets and for this Indian team it wasn't quite the case even at a time when their bowlers were taking wickets. They beat Australia in Melbourne struggling to chase a low score and in Adelaide, failed to do even that. With the pillars of strength in Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh showing signs of being back to where they are expected to, Dhoni can now hope that was no flash in the pan.

Having said that, Dhoni's bunch of boys and men has to do extraordinarily to put it across a team that is coming off a defeat. Apart from contending with a batting line-up where almost everybody is among the runs, there is also this task of facing an attack laced with pace, swing and a fair amount of spin. Law of average demanded a defeat for Australia that came on Friday. India would like to prove it's a trivia in their pursuit of things big.

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