India look to surge ahead of Aussies

Injuries to key players leave visitors worried

India look to surge ahead of Aussies

Yuvraj Singh (centre), Gautam Gambhir (left) and Harbhajan Singh during  India’s training session at Feroze Shah Kotla on Friday. AP/PTI

Coming here on the back of a 6-1 series win in England and their title triumph in the Champions Trophy, Australia had everything going for them. However, two matches into the series against India, things are certainly looking different.

Australia lived up to the form book when they eked out a narrow four-run victory in Vadodara. But the fightback from the Indian lower-order had sown seeds of doubt in Australian minds, a series of injuries to key players adding to their woes.

On the other hand, India inflicted a 99-run defeat in Nagpur’s second match to draw level. India’s batting, undoubtedly their greatest strength, was at its explosive best and the bowling passed the test, though fielding could have been a lot better.

Australia began with a potent bowling attack, but injuries to pace spearhead Brett Lee, ruled out of the remainder of the series on Friday after failing to recover from a sore elbow and James Hopes considerably weakened a line-up that leaked 354 runs in the second match. 

Australia may boast a fine set of batsmen, but chasing a total in excess of 350 was asking for too much. Expectedly, they crumbled under the avalanche of runs. India’s bowling, one of their weaker links along with the fielding, suddenly appeared to have found its bearings. While Harbhajan Singh’s form continues to be a worry, Ravindra Jadeja showed he can step up and perform at this level.

Ishant Sharma’s performance in the first two matches too has been heartening. It’s too early to say if the youngster has regained his old form, but his consistent speed and his ability get the ball to lift were there for everyone to see. Throw in Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra and the pace resources look a lot better than Australia’s now. Though they had the benefit of defending a huge total, India’s bowlers bowled with great control and purchased some movement to unsettle the Aussie top-order. 

That should bode well for India on a Kotla strip that has attracted undivided attention for a while now for its slow nature. Obviously, team strategies would be based keeping the surface in mind. Both sides have players who played in the Champions League to provide them with inputs. The previous two matches have seen plenty of sixes and fours being scored, but it will be a different ball game on Saturday, where stroke-making will as difficult as bowling is for the quicks on flat decks.

One of the more noticeable features of India’s batting in Nagpur was the running between the wickets, especially between skipper MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir. With the Kotla wicket unlikely to aid big hitting, the strategy they employed will be an ideal way to go about their batting, though a smaller ground may not allow them to pick gaps with the same ease as at the sprawling Nagpur ground. But even if India can manage to come somewhere close to Wednesday’s effort, they can call the shots.

Virender Sehwag’s form at the top of the tree will once again play a crucial role while a big one is expected from Sachin Tendulkar’s blade. Gambhir, who too is a hometown boy like Sehwag and who did little of note in the Champions League, will be looking to redeem himself in front of his home crowd.

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