Saturday, February 9, 2008

India look to turn the tables

Back after a four-day break, a refreshed India take on the upbeat Australians at the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday in what could be billed as the fight for the top spot in the three-nation tournament.

Having turned in an all-round performance to beat Sri Lanka by a massive margin on Friday and lead the table with seven points, the Australians walk into the game with their collars turned up even as the Indians, on four points, quietly plan to dislodge Ricky Ponting’s men from their high pedestal, just like they did in the Tests.

But the misfiring Blues know that one-day internationals are a different ball game with very little time to make amends. Apart from the face-saving unbroken partnership of 184 between captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir against Sri Lanka in Brisbane, the Indians do not have much to talk about in the CB series so far.

The specialist batsmen didn’t make their wickets count in the first match too, against Australia, which was also washed out by rain in Brisbane. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag got India to a decent start once but neither could hang in there to help the inexperienced middle order consolidate. With the Aussies firing on all cylinders, India, who are likely to retain the side that played Lanka, cannot afford another slip up.

Sehwag and Tendulkar, the only two Indians to have done well at the MCG, will have to rediscover their forms of 2003 and 1999 when they scored 195 and 116 respectively in Test matches. But the two aren’t growing any younger.

The bowling department of Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh will have to be accurate as they were after the rain break in Brisbane to arrest the flow of runs from the in-form Aussies.

The MCG wicket will suit the Indians well with the ball tending to grip the surface a bit before coming on to the bat a trifle slower, which makes the toss vital. Teams batting second have always had a better chance to win here.

The ground conditions may be in India’s favour, but it is certain that the ones in the stands will not be. The imposing stadium is known to have its effect on the minds of the men in the middle. It remains to be seen how the Indian youngsters deal with the situation should it be a sell-out Sunday crowd.

Also, history is against the Indians at the MCG — they have won seven and lost eight ODIs here, last beating Australia in 1986 before losing five consecutive games to the home side since.

That apart, India fared poorly at the MCG on the current tour as well, losing the Boxing Day Test by 337 runs and the one-off Twenty20 game by nine wickets.

India’s best win at the MCG came in 1985 around this time of the year when they won the World Series Cup beating Pakistan by eight wickets. Then captain Sunil Gavaskar and opener Ravi Shastri, who made an unbeaten 63, now here as commentators, could do well to give the Blues a tip or two.

Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, who is yet to play a game, could be forgiven for talking about leggie L. Sivaramakrishnan’s 3/35 in that game at team meetings. Time to buck up.