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High-octane, high-pressure clash in the offing

S. Dinakar

Final call on Sehwag's inclusion to be taken only in the morning; Zaheer holds the key with his bowling

Photo: K.R. DEEPAK

VITAL COG:With his precision and craft, the in-form Zaheer Khan — seen here with Virat Kohli on Wednesday — can influence the game and India will be looking to him to deliver. —

Ahmedabad: A war of words has preceded fireworks in the arena. The mind games are on even as the cricketing temperature increases amidst the heat and dust of this charming city.

Ricky Ponting declared his side would play the Australian way. This meant the Aussie tactics would be driven by aggression, freedom and conviction.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni responded by saying his team would play the Indian way which according to him was “dishing out our normal cricket.”

Ponting revealed his team would watch the video of the 2003 World Cup final between India and Australia at the Wanderers to seek inspiration.

Dhoni's repartee was that the images from that summit clash in South Africa lacked relevance now. “Half of the Indian players from that team are missing anyway,” quipped the Indian skipper.

Duel of skills and nerve

The World Cup last-eight duel between India and Australia at Motera, here on Thursday, will be as much about skills as nerve.

Although Virender Sehwag batted at the nets without being in any discomfort, Dhoni was guarded in his response about his availability for the game. India is likely to take a final call on the morning of the match.

The chances are that Sehwag would eventually figure in this high-octane, high-pressure duel.

By appearing to sit on the fence regarding the dashing opener's fitness — Sehwag is recovering from a swelling in his right knee — Dhoni might want the Aussies to sweat about their game-plan.

Game-changer Sehwag will be vital to the Indian strategy. If he fires at the start, the fiery Aussie pace pack will be pounded mentally.

Sachin Tendulkar, just one away from a historic 100th international hundred, would relish the sniff of a duel with the Aussie pacemen. Preventing the Australians from making early inroads could be the key to India's success.

Different bowlers

The challenge from the Aussie pace trio is a formidable one. Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson are all different kind of bowlers.

The rejuvenated Lee is running hot. The pace ace is bowling with balance, control, speed and movement. The Aussie now is running in with short steps and delivering with a high-arm action. There was a period when he thundered in with long steps, and consequently, dragged his feet at the point of release; his arm was much lower.

Tait, a slinger who relies on extreme pace, could test the Indians with yorkers. The square is quite hard here, the conditions are dry and there is a distinct possibility that the ball would reverse at some stage.

Johnson, another slinger, brings with him left-arm variety and angle. He has a deceptive short-pitched delivery and can be potent with his fuller length balls as well. Johnson has already indicated that he would target Sehwag's rib-cage.

The Indians, on a surface that might prove a slow turner, could limit the damage by the Australian quicks. The in-form Yuvraj Singh at No. 4 will be critical to the Indian plans.

Batting worries

The Aussies have batting worries, though. In an earlier Group A match here on a sluggish track, the Aussie batsmen huffed and puffed against an ordinary Zimbabwe attack.

This Australian batting line-up — Ricky Ponting seeks form while Michael Hussey lacks match practice — might struggle against the Indian spinners.

Harbhajan and R. Ashwin, with support from Yuvraj's much-improved left-arm spin, could probe the Aussie line-up. Dhoni will need to back his spinners and create stress in the opposition ranks with a couple of close catchers.

It looks unlikely that India would field five bowlers and if Sehwag is fit for action, it could be a toss up between Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina for the seventh batsman's slot.

The home side, which has tended to implode in the batting Power Play will need to hold firm without losing fluency.

Batting first could be another essential ingredient for Indian success. If India weathers the pace storm — the Aussies lack quality in spin — the side can put up a sizable total on the board. The heat then would be on the Aussies during the chase.

The precision and craft of the in-form Zaheer Khan could also influence the proceedings during all stages of the innings. But then, if the Indians slip up in fielding and running between the wickets, the Aussies could make them pay.

The teams (from): India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, S. Tendulkar, G. Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, V. Kohli, S. Raina, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, M. Patel, Y. Pathan, P. Chawla, S. Sreesanth, A. Nehra.

Australia: R. Ponting (captain), S. Watson, B. Haddin, M. Clarke, M. Hussey, C. White, S. Smith, M. Johnson, B. Lee, J. Krejza, S. Tait, C. Ferguson, J. Hastings, D. Hussey, T. Paine.

Umpires: M. Erasmus & I. Gould; Third umpire: R. Kettleborough; Match referee: R. Madugalle.

Match starts at 2.30 p.m.

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