India target rare sweep; Aussies eye redemption

Relief for teams as heavy rains relent; many problem areas need addressing

Murali Vijay (background) and Virat Kohli go through their pre-game routines at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Margao on Saturday. PTI

Not until noon was there any hint of a possibility of even a truncated match. Almost the whole of Friday night had seen torrential rain beat down on this quaint Goan town and Saturday dawned with another long spell of rain which forced the Indians to postpone their scheduled practice session. But as the sun made its first appearance in the afternoon, so did the hopes of some action.

Despite the heavy shower for close to 12 hours, the outfield here at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium remarkably remained in almost perfect condition. There were a few wet spots on the edges, but nothing more. As the gloomy morning paved the way for a bright afternoon, both Australia and India boarded their respective buses for practice sessions.
In ideal conditions, teams would not like to share practice facilities, but these were not normal times. So, though, only Australia were scheduled to train in the afternoon, the visitors were forced to go through their drills along with their Indian counterparts. It was interesting to see Saurabh Tiwary face Indian bowlers flanked by Australian batsmen in the adjacent ‘nets’.

Cut to the match. A depleted Australia will be desperately hoping for a consolation, series-levelling win. Australia have been here in India for over a month now, and haven’t tasted a single victory on tour. Of course, they have played only four matches so far – a three-day tour match, two Tests and an ODI – but it’s rare for an Australian side to be in such a situation where they face a potential whitewash.

Adding to Michael Clarke’s woes, Cricket Australia have recalled Mike Hussey and Doug Bollinger ahead of the series-decider for different reasons. The departure of Hussey from an already inexperienced middle-order has not only weakened Australia’s batting firepower, but also has left them with only 12 players to choose from for the final match.

On the positive side for the world’s number one one-day side, debutant pacemen Mitchell Starc and John Hastings had shown great heart while bowling in difficult conditions in Visakhapatnam. With the match here being a day game, the two youngsters can expect things to get only more challenging. Another heartening sign for Australia was Clarke’s return to form. Heckled back home for his poor run of scores in Tests, the right-hander came up with a well-constructed unbeaten century under pressure, and the skipper will once again have to shape his team’s batting fortunes. 

Safe in the knowledge that they can’t lose the series, India will be looking to go for the kill and clinch what has become a two-match rubber. Up against a steep target, the youngsters showed outstanding maturity to take the team across the line. Virat Kohli’s grit and gumption and Suresh Raina’s flair and flamboyance were the stand-out features of India’s chase, but Yuvraj Singh’s workman-like fifty was equally encouraging.

Like Australia, India too capped two youngsters – Tiwary and Shikhar Dhawan -- and the two left-handers will most likely feature in the final 11 again. While there isn’t much scope for tinkering with the batting combination, R Vinay Kumar, who bowled well before being carted around in his last two overs, may make way for Munaf Patel, with Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar most likely sharing the new ball. An impressive R Ashwin will be the fourth bowler and the part-timers will do the duty of a fifth bowler.

Australia plundered 84 runs in the last five overs in the previous match as Cameron White went ballistic against the pacemen, but the effort by the batsmen glossed over the bowling inadequacies in the death. This is one area, however, that India can’t afford to ignore for too long.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, R Vinay Kumar.

Australia: Michael Clarke (capt), Cameron White, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, James Hopes, Tim Paine, Clint McKay, Steve Smith, Nathan Hauritz, Mitchell Starc, John Hastings, David Warner.

Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Amish Saheba. Third umpire: Sanjay Hazare. Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

Hours of play: 0900-1230 hours and 1315-end of play.

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