Tendulkar, Lee in final stand-off
After 51 matches over six weeks in three countries the World Cup final has fittingly resolved into a battle between the premier strike bowler and the leading batsman.Updated: Mar 21, 2003 19:26 IST
After 51 matches over six weeks in three countries the World Cup final has fittingly resolved into a battle between the premier strike bowler and the leading batsman.
This Sunday Brett Lee, blond, athletic and exuberant, will take the new ball for defending champions Australia at The Wanderers. Sachin Tendulkar, balanced, composed and unsmiling, will open the batting for India.
Over the past few months Lee has evolved from an undeniably quick but somewhat mechanical fast bowler into a genuine match-winner.
His runup is controlled and menacing, followed by a delivery leap from which he propels the ball at speeds consistently in excess of 150 kms an hour (93.21mph). What has distinguished Lee's bowling this year has been his ability to follow a vicious short-pitched delivery with a precisely aimed swinging yorker.
Australia posted modest totals against New Zealand in the Super Sixes and Sri Lanka in the semi-finals. Two bursts of pure fast bowling by Lee made them seem insurmountable. He also took a hat-trick against Kenya but somehow missed out on the man-of-the-match award.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting has given Lee the new ball with Glenn McGrath throughout the tournament, including the group match against India even before Jason Gillespie returned home injured. India made their lowest ever World Cup score of 125.
"Brett came through," recalled Australia vice-captain Adam Gilchrist. "So it will be on their minds for sure and they will also remember they had to face him when he first came into international cricket and was bowling with real pace then as well."
Tendulkar can only envy the support Lee will enjoy on Sunday. McGrath is fast medium by comparison these days but the deadly accuracy remains, as does the ability to jag the ball late both ways off the seam. Andy Bichel and left-arm unorthodox spinner Brad Hogg have proven admirable replacements for Gillespie and Shane Warne.
It would be an over-simplification to say that India, in contrast, rely exclusively on Tendulkar. But their vaunted batting lineup is far more brittle than the averages would at first glance suggest.
Virender Sehwag, a Tendulkar clone, has yet to get going. Captain Saurav Ganguly has scored three centuries, but they have come against Kenya (twice) and Namibia. Against the test nations he averages 17.16. Mohammad Kaif has only one innings of consequence and Yuvraj Singh two.
Next to Tendulkar their most reliable batsman has been Rahul Dravid, who averages 67.75, inflated by five not outs.
Tendulkar has the most runs (a World Cup record 669), trails only Dravid in the Indian averages (66.90) and has the best strike rate among their specialist batsmen (89.11). His innings of 98 against Pakistan, where he targeted Shoaib Akhtar, was a stunning mix of premeditated brutality and delicacy of touch.
"This is the best I have seen him play," said Ganguly. "He has played so well and so consistently -- that's the key, the consistency."
India's true strength has been in their pace trio of Javagal Srinath and left-armers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. Australia's top-order batting has been inconsistent, although no one has looked out of form, and both opener Matthew Hayden and Ponting are both due a big score.
Australia's biggest asset has been their self-belief that they can win a game from any position, as they did in their recoveries against England and New Zealand. On both occasions unheralded Queensland fast bowler Bichel proved an unexpected hero with the bat.
Bichel epitomises the modern Australian team, where individuals are urged to stretch themselves beyond their apparent limits.
"Andy has just taken his chance with both hands," said Ponting. "He wasn't in the side at the start of the tour but since he got in he has just got better and better."
At least one statistic will hearten the Indians, seeking their first World Cup since their only triumph in 1983.
Australia come into the match with a record 16 one-day international wins behind them. In 2001 Steve Waugh's side extended their record run of test victories to 16 at the expense of India. They lost the next two tests and the series 2-1.
First Published: Mar 21, 2003 19:26 IST