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Dhoni’s men face a tough test of survival

S. Dinakar

Australia raring to go in for another sub-continental conquest

Nagpur: India will fight to stay afloat in the Future Cup series here on Sunday. Against an Australian side moving in for the kill, survival might be hard.

It was at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground three years ago that Australia conquered the ‘Final Frontier’, achieving a cherished Test series triumph on Indian soil.

When the series was clinched, it was Adam Gilchrist, and not the injured Ricky Ponting, who was at the helm.

An ODI series victory will not be as significant as that famous Test triumph, but for the Australian side in the post McGrath-Warne era, any sub-continental conquest will have its own relevance.

Ponting will be in charge this time with Australia leading 3-1, needing another win to close out the seven-match series before the final ODI in Mumbai. A clever man, he would realise that the pressure could be right back on on his team if the series is stretched to the last game. The hunter might become the hunted.

Hayden hurt

The Aussies could be without influential opener Matthew Hayden on Sunday. The big opener has a hamstring strain and the visitors will make a call on him in the morning. Hayden has been dominant in the series, as much psychologically as with the willow.

If Hayden misses out, the in-form but strangely over-looked Brad Haddin might be back in the eleven. While Haddin has opened in the past, the Aussies have other options as well.

At the time of writing, the pitch sported a layer of green, although much of the grass seemed dead. The wicket could favour the batsmen.

Hard pitch

Both teams scored over 300 runs in the ODI between India and the West Indies earlier this year but the surface here is among the harder ones in the country. There could be some encouragement for the pacemen in terms of bounce and movement off the pitch, at least in the first half of the match.

The surface here has tended to encourage the spinners in the second phase and one does not have to look beyond the India-Sri Lanka ODI in 2005 for evidence. That was a game when there was definite purchase for the home spinners when Lanka chased. India’s best option would be to put runs on the board and then apply pressure. But then, the Indians would have to blunt the Aussie pacemen in the first session before switching gears.

In Vadodara, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson left India bleeding with the new ball.

Dravid’s form

While much hinges on the Tendulkar-Ganguly opening partnership, India seeks runs from Rahul Dravid. The former India captain made a fluent 31 in the second game at Kochi before being brilliantly caught on the line by Johnson. In the subsequent three matches, he has not touched double figures.

However, Dravid had a productive ODI series in England and judgments should not be made on accomplished cricketers on the basis of a few games.

The think-tank should also give Dravid a run at No. 3 and not push him down the order. Dravid’s Nagpur connection runs deep and he will not be lacking in support.

The Indian bowlers were not provided enough runs at Vadodara. The think-tank might toy with the idea of including a right-arm paceman for variety, but should persist with two specialist spinners.

Major hurdle

Andrew Symonds is the major hurdle for the Indian attack. The answer could lie in frustrating the Aussie early on, denying him scoring opportunities.

The ploy has worked in the past.

The teams: India (from): M.S. Dhoni (Capt.), S. Tendulkar, S. Ganguly, R. Uthappa, R. Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, I. Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, M. Kartik, Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh, S. Sreesanth, R. Sharma, D. Karthik and S. Badrinath.

Australia (from): R. Ponting (Capt.), A. Gilchrist, M. Hayden, M. Clarke, A. Symonds, B. Hodge, J. Hopes, B. Hogg, B. Lee, S. Clark, M. Johnson, S. Clark, B. Haddin and B. Hilfenhaus.

Umpires: Aleem Dar & Amit Sahiba; Third umpire: Suresh Shastri; Match referee: Chris Broad.

Play starts at 9 a.m.

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