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Team selection is vital

S. Dinakar

India's home record against Australia: five wins to nine losses

— Photo: AP

Swashbuckler:With Virender Sehwag expected to return to the Indian line-up for the quarterfinal against Australia, it remains to be seen whether it will be Yusuf Pathan or Suresh Raina who gets to play bench-warmer.

Ahmedabad: A big decision awaits India ahead of the ‘blockbuster' World Cup quarterfinal against Australia here on Thursday.

Should India enter the high-pressure game with a seventh batsman or field an additional bowler instead? It will not be an easy call.

The surface at the Sardar Patel Stadium at Motera should encourage the spinners, and it will be advantage India if Mahendra Singh Dhoni wins the spin of the coin and bats.

A third spinner in leggie Piyush Chawla could prove an attacking option for the side. In a knockout match, picking up wickets in the middle overs could be critical.

As in the case of an additional batsman, the selection of Chawla will be a gamble. In case the leg-spinner goes for runs, India can always fall back on Yuvraj Singh's steady left-arm spin to plug the gap.

This will be a brave tactical ploy and might have the Aussies thinking. After all, the side struggled against Chawla in the practice match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium preceding the World Cup.

In sudden death situations, aggression can pay. And this is not only about hitting the ball out of the park. Attacking game-plans in bowling can swing matches.


The question to be asked here is whether the extra batsman has impacted the side's fortunes so far in the competition. Yusuf Pathan, the seventh batsman, has scores of 8 (versus Bangladesh), 14 (England), 30 not out (Ireland), 11 (the Netherlands), 0 (South Africa) and 11 (the West Indies).

Apart from the blitz at the end against Ireland, he has hardly caused any ripples. Will the team management, hoping that Yusuf finally explodes against Australia, continue with the power-hitter? The chances are that the Aussie pacemen might bounce at Yusuf from the start.

With the lower order not firing, India has been powerless in the batting Power Play. Against its three major opponents in Group B, India has been found wanting during this crucial phase.

Those five overs were particularly disastrous for the side against South Africa and the West Indies. The Indians lost four wickets for 30 runs versus South Africa at Nagpur; the Power Play was taken between overs 39 and 43. Against the West Indies — the batting Power Play automatically came into force from the 46th — India managed only 28 runs for the loss of four batsmen.

When the field comes in for the batting Power Play — only three fielders are allowed outside the circle — it becomes harder to find the gaps. Batsmen have perished opting to go over the in-field.

The bowlers have been operating much better too during this phase. They are not sending down length balls, have mixed their pace and disrupted the footwork of the batsmen with well-directed short-pitched stuff. Someone like Yusuf has not received too many deliveries in his ‘zone.'

With the intrepid Virender Sehwag expected to return to the eleven, India could leave out both Yusuf and Suresh Raina or go in with one of the two.

Fresh beginning

At the end of the day, the think-tank might, considering the threat of early inroads from the Aussie pacemen, opt again for an extra batsman to lend weight to the lower order. It could ignore the returns from the seventh batsman in the earlier games; after all, the knockout stage is a fresh beginning.

If this, eventually, is the team's line of thinking, then Raina, who cannot be judged on the basis of a single failure, could be in the running for a place too. Along with Virat Kohli, he could put pressure on the batsmen in the in-field with bright fielding.

Intriguing possibility

There is another intriguing possibility. What if India fields three specialist spinners and opts for a lone paceman in Zaheer Khan?

After all, Dhoni gave the impressive R. Ashwin an extended spell with the new ball and then brought the off-spinner back for the batting Power Play. And Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer are Dhoni's preferred choices in the end overs. Indeed, the selection of an eleven can be as interesting as the contests in the middle.

India will have to get its combination right against a formidable opponent. In 15 ODIs against Australia at home, stretching from 2006, India has won only five.

Australia has been victorious in nine games while one match did not produce a result.

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