Brace up for a test of nerves

Brace up for a test of nerves

India need to be at the top of their game if they are to knock out Australia in today's contest

Brace up for a test of nerves

 Over the last decade or so, the India-Australia rivalry has grown into one of the fiercest ones in the game. It may not be soaked in tradition as the Ashes is or emotionally charged as India-Pakistan matches are, but India-Australia contests have their own charm.

And so will it be here on Sunday when the two clash in a Super 10 contest that will decide the second semifinalist from Group 2. This Indian side has shown, in the last couple of years, that it can measure up to the Australian challenge both at home and away.

They come into this contest on the back of a 3-0 sweep of Australia Down Under early this year in the T20I series. In conditions that heavily favoured the batsmen, India outclassed the hosts with Virat Kohli leading the batting charge. Since that series triumph, India have gone on to beat Sri Lanka at home 2-1 and claimed the Asia Cup with an all-win record.

Their performance in the World T20 so far has been a bit patchy though. They have followed up their debilitating defeat against New Zealand with a hard-fought win over Pakistan and a lucky escape against a bungling Bangladesh and it is only fair to say that India have just managed to keep their heads above water. Against a buoyed Australia, however, they will have to bring their A game to the table. India know they can’t get fortuitous against Australia, who, if allowed an inch, will take a mile.

India may take confidence from the fact they have beaten Australia 3-0 not too long ago but they will be aware of the conditions in which those wins came. It also has to be kept in mind that Australia kept experimenting with different combinations through the series and didn’t have a settled outlook to them.

Mohali has offered good batting surfaces throughout the tournament but it remains to be seen what will be in the offing on Sunday. It was interesting to see skipper MS Dhoni having a lengthy discussion with curator Daljit Singh after India’s practice session on Saturday evening. Given a choice, it is unclear what kind of pitch the Indians would prefer because their batting has struggled on sluggish decks while they will be aware how devastating Australian batting can be on a belter.

The genesis of India’s batting problems in this tournament lie in the lack of any meaningful contribution from their openers.  The value an in-form Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma bring to the side can’t be overstated but their continued failures have exposed the middle-order early. Suresh Raina did get amongst some runs against Bangladesh but he will have to do more as is the case with Yuvraj Singh.

The bowling, though, has done consistently well. Off-spinner R Ashwin continues to be brilliant while pacers Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah have held their own. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja has been quite handy but against Australia, squeezing in the remaining four overs – which Dhoni has distributed between Hardik Pandya and Suresh Raina – without much damage can be challenging on what has been the best surface in this tournament so far.

Australia would have been satisfied with how their batting unit came together against Pakistan after below par shows against New Zealand and Bangladesh. Though Aaron Finch, who had replaced Mitchell Marsh, didn’t get going skipper Steven Smith got a confidence-boosting half-century under his belt. Glenn Maxwell’s cameo was a chilling reminder of his destructiveness while the retiring Shane Watson proved he can be as effective.

When it comes to bowling India have an edge over Australia. Their pace unit has appeared ineffective while their dependence on young leg-spinner Adam Zampa against this Indian batting line-up can be fraught with danger. James Faulkner was impressive against Pakistan with a five-for but India have played him well in the past.

Recent clashes between the two sides have shown that India-Australia matches are as much about skills as they are about fortitude. The trick is in holding one’s nerve in a pressure-cooker situation.

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