Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ind vs Aus: India on the edge as Men in Blue face Australia

AHMEDABAD: This is it. Hold your breath whenIndia take on Australia on Thursday, for there will be no second chances. The biggest stage, and the crucial moment, has arrived. 


Reputations are at stake for MS Dhoni and his beleaguered counterpart Ricky Ponting. India lost to Australia in the 2003 World Cup final and endured an awful campaign in 2007, but the scales have tilted since. This isn't the invincible Australia of old. Rather than a sublime and uplifting battle between two powerhouses of the international game, current form indicates this second quarterfinal might be more of a scrap. 

Neither side has been awe-inspiring in the build-up to this moment. Both have obvious chinks in the armour just waiting to be exploited, and both need to shed the blow-hot, blow-cold approach which has characterized their campaign so far. 

Then there's the enormous pressure breathing down their necks, especially Dhoni's men. India are playing at home and millions expect nothing less than victory. The backlash, in case of defeat, will be painful. Australia have dominated this stage for so long that this bunch of players wouldn't like to be remembered as children of a lesser god. Whichever team can raise its game now will go through to meet Pakistan. 

As many as six players in Dhoni's current squad were losing finalists in 2003 and will be looking to make amends. It's a great opportunity to settle an old score. Yet, making a statement of intent might not be easy, even though the Motera is expected to be dry and spin-friendly. India's bowling, apart from Zaheer Khan, has been ordinary. Time and again, they have faltered in the Batting Powerplay. Even the middle-order has collapsed twice. Australia's pacers can be a handful. Can the sight of a familiar opponent get the competitive juices flowing? 

The issue of Virender Sehwag's fitness is another complication the team could have done without. The opener is struggling with a troublesome knee and Dhoni said a call on his availability would be taken in the morning. Sehwag, however, spent a lot of time at the nets fielding and batting, and seems more likely to play than not. 

The Australians too have been anything but impressive. Ponting's time seems to be running out. His form and confidence is under the scanner and his fierce temper has shown through. Controversy and bad blood seems to be hounding the Aussies and they've been forced to maintain a quieter profile. The loss to Pakistan meant drawing the curtains on a 34-game unbeaten streak in this tournament and this loss of aura is a boost for opponents. 

Will this be India's turn to deliver a knockout blow?

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