Australia begin with distinct edge

Dhonis men under pressure to shed patchy recent form

Australia begin with distinct edge

Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, center, helps teammate Gautam Gambhir as coach Gary Kirsten watches during net practice at Vadodara.On the other hand, Australia’s fortunes had hit an all-time low following Test series successive losses to India, South Africa and England as their aur of invincibility began to disappear significantly.

But it has taken just two one-day events after their Ashes defeat in August for Australia to reassert their supremacy in world cricket. Following their 6-1 trouncing of England, Ricky Ponting’s men became the first team to win the Champions Trophy twice.

There is no denying the fact that Australia start with an advantage when game one of the seven-match series begins at the Reliance stadium here on Sunday. The confidence in the Australian camp is matched only by the uncertainty in the Indian side.

Two forgettable outings, in the World T20 and the Champions Trophy, have taken the gloss off India’s consistent run in the last two years. However, it’s not so much their failed campaigns as the shape of the team and its players that is worrying.

Yuvraj’s fitness

There is still a question mark over the fitness of Yuvraj Singh who, in all probability, will not figure in the final eleven, as indicated by skipper Dhoni. The stumper himself was hit on the back of his left knee, which forced him out of nets on Friday, and his admission that there were a few players with niggles isn’t an encouraging sign against a supremely fit Australian side. 
  
The return of Virender Sehwag is the best thing to have happened to the Indian side ahead of this high-profile series. Along with Sachin Tendulkar, he forms an intimidating combo at the top of the tree.

Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Dhoni and Virat Kohli (in case Yuvraj fails to make the cut) complete a strong top and middle-order and if you throw in the lone all-rounder in the squad – Ravindra Jadeja – the batting appears deep and safe.

The same can’t be said of the bowlers, though. Impressive at the nets, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra are more or less certain to figure in the eleven, while it remains to be seen if a struggling Ishant Sharma makes way for Praveen Kumar.

Harbhajan Singh wasn’t particularly spectacular in the Champions Trophy but he is sure to get the nod ahead of Amit Mishra for the lone spinner’s slot. Between them, Jadeja, Raina and Sehwag will have to take care of the fifth bowler’s quota.

Compared to the hosts, Australia, with a fair sprinkling of all-rounders, appear a more rounded side. Spearheaded by the incisive Brett Lee, who is bowling as well as he ever has in his career, the visitors’ bowling is in top shape.

The familiarity with the conditions of Lee, Stuart Clark and offie Nathan Hauritz, all of whom played in the Champions League final – should also hold them in good stead while left-armer Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Ben Hilfenhaus and James Hopes provide Ponting with a plethora of bowling options.     

Man of the series in the Champions Trophy, Ponting leads a clutch of form batsmen in Watson, Cameron White and Mike Hussey, while Tim Paine and Hopes lend further solidity to an already impressive batting line-up bolstered by the return of the exciting left-hander Shaun Marsh. Add Lee and Johnson’s ability to use the long handle, and the Indian bowlers have a difficult job ahead, to put it mildly.

Tough as the task may be, the series also is an opportunity for India to regain their lost sheen. Sunday’s opening match might just show if India can stare adversity in the face and come out unscathed.  

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Sudeep Tyagi, Amit Mishra. 
 
Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt), Shane Watson, Tim Paine, Shaun Marsh, Mike Hussey, Cameron White, Adam Voges, James Hopes, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Jon Holland.  

Umpires: Shahvir Tarapore and Mark Benson (England). Third umpire: Amish Saheba. Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

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