Partab Ramchand

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No Australian side can be under-rated

On the face of it this is a dream contest. After all isn't it a clash between the two top ODI sides in the game? And then of course there is the grudge factor whenever and wherever India and Australia meet on the field. Which means, besides the cricket being of a really high order, one can expect the tension and needling that is inevitable in such contests. One only hopes that the players don't cross the line and venture into unacceptable behaviour and spoil what should be a real cracker of a seven- match series.

 

It would not be out of place to look back at the last ODI series played in India between the two countries exactly two years ago. On that occasion Australia were more comfortable winners than the final 4-2 margin suggests. But it is safe to say that the visitors were much stronger than the present squad.

 

Among those on duty were Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden all of whom are missing this time for one reason or the other. Perhaps that is the main reason why Ricky Ponting has been rather cautious in his comments both in Australia on the eve of the tour and after landing in India.

 

The experienced Australian captain is no stranger to mind games but this time his refrain has been that India are a tough side to beat at home. Well, at least he is being realistic for India do have a splendid record in their own backyard the odd blip notwithstanding.

 

It is a fact, however, that Australia are No 1 and India No 2 a fair bit behind in the rankings. It is also true that whereas the Aussies have had a rather enviable run of late including a 6-1 thrashing of England and a notable triumph in the Champions Trophy the Indians failed to make the semifinals in South Africa.

 

However, before that setback in the Champions Trophy MS Dhoni and his men were on a roll with one creditable victory after another over the past year. They won twice in Sri Lanka, registered notable victories in New Zealand and West Indies and routed England 5-0 at home. The Compaq Cup tri series in Sri Lanka last month was the latest addition on the plus side of the balance sheet but is the early elimination in the Champions Trophy an indication that their enviable run is coming to an end?

 

It need not be for the Indian team has been strengthened with the return of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. The batting - Indian cricket's traditional strength - is in good hands with Sachin Tendulkar, Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli around besides the returning duo. It is said that bowling wins matches, but as we have seen several times, the Indian batsmen have covered up for the inherent weakness in the bowling by some marvelous displays.

 

The Australian bowling does not seem to have the firepower to contain the Indian batting and as such it should be another high scoring series. On the other hand the Indian bowling too may finish second best when it comes to tackling the Aussie batting machine led by the captain. Given this, it might be a good idea for the Indian team management to take a calculated gamble and field two spinners for most of the matches.

 

The seven batsmen and four bowler policy has stood the Indian team in good stead but perhaps the time has come to adopt the six batsmen and five bowler policy particularly when there is a question mark over the utility player's slot at No 7. It will be an attacking move against a visiting side that could be vulnerable in Indian conditions.

 

Still, no Australian side can be under-rated. They are the game's perennial fighters and they have the personnel who have helped shape the recent triumphs. It must also not be forgotten that most the squad have got ample experience of Indian conditions after taking part in the IPL and Champions League besides bilateral contests.

 

I love sticking my neck out but this time, I will go with Steve Waugh's predication - a 4-3 scoreline for the winning team, whoever this might be. Either way, that result will see Australia retain the No 1 ranking for nothing less than a 5-2 victory for India will see them overtake the Aussies and go to the top.

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