Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Cup 2011 .... India vs Australia - preview !!!

India takes on Australia tomorrow at Motera, Ahmedabad in the 2nd quarterfinals, a match that is being billed as the titanic clash of the tournament. For Australia it is a case or stamping their World Cup authority while for India, it is a case of revenge from the 2003 World Cup final's loss. Both the teams would have wanted this clash to happen on 2nd April, at Mumbai in the finals, but are now slated against each other in quarterfinals.
Going by present form, Australia is certainly not a clear favourite. In batting they have only Shane Watson along with Haddin at the top, & to a lesser extent Michael Clarke, who have found some form. Captain Ricky Ponting is clearly struggling to score, while, Cameron White is yet to fire in the death overs. Inclusion of Mike Hussey certainly adds depth to this fragile batting line up, but this team lacks the hunger & fire power which has kept the Aussies as Champs over the last three World Cup events. In bowling, Brett Lee seems to have found his lost rhythm & is bowling beautifully. But he is not backed enough by Shaun Tait or Johnson or Watson to blow away a strong opposition. Aussies would do well to include David Hussey in place of Cameron White to bolster their middle order & also get a spinning option.
India on the other hand has an exceptionally strong batting line up, & even if three out of seven batsmen score, they would have put up a huge total. Sachin & Sehwag are amongst the top four batsmen in the tournament so far & Yuvraj Singh seems to be finding his silken touch just about at the right time. Add to that the presence of Gambhir, Dhoni, Virat & Yusuf or indeed is a potent line up, with each one having the capacity to win the match on his own. However, the worry is that the team has not been able to bat the full quota of 50 overs, & there have been too many collapses in the last few matches. Also, the use of batting power play has been miserable. In bowling, barring the exception of Zaheer, who spearheads, India has looked weak & vulnerable. Bhajji has been good in patches & Nehra & Munaf  have been below par. The inclusion of Ashwin should boost the bowling, as he brings in an unknown element for the Aussies to tackle.
India's bane has been fielding, & as Dhoni rightly says, we cannot improve overnight. Therefore, as a unit, we need to bat deep & score runs & then allow the bowlers to add pressure on opposition to crumble. We need to play to our strength. For Sachin, it is his last chance to win the elusive World Cup & he would be really fired up to perform. However, Sehwag is still nursing an injury & may have to sit out, which is a jolt to Indian hopes.

India has to win the toss & bat first & put up a total beyond 280 runs, which means, one of the top order batsman has to play a long innings & score a hundred. Then & only then can they pressurise the Aussies to crack, as Ashwin, Bhajji can then make good use of the turning track, with Zaheer doing some early damage. For Aussies, they would also like to bat first & put up a total that their pace battery can defend.
Both teams have a struggling middle order..... one has a potent opening pair, while the other is in bits & pieces, has a good pace attack while the other has better spinning options, has an athletic fielding unit, while the other is struggling. In all both the teams are plagued with inconsistencies, but have the fire power to go the distance. It will certainly depend on who holds the nerves better. The Aussies known for their sledging, have already started, with Ponting taking a dig at Sachin. While Australia will take courage from World Cup history, India would remember the warm up match before this tournament at Bangalore, when they comprehensively defeated the Aussies, with spin.
In their last encounter at the World Cup finals 2003 at Johannesburg, South Africa, Aussies had clearly mauled the Indians. Zaheer, Nehra & Bhajji in bowling were blasted to all corners by Hayden & Gilchrist first & later by Ponting & Martyn, though Bhajji managed 2 wickets. In batting Sachin had an off day & Yuvi fell short after a start. It was only Sehwag who fought out manly, as India lost the match by 125 runs, a defeat which still rankles in the mind of the Indians. Ponting would clearly carry memories of that match for mental support & build up. We had lost a great opportunity to defeat the Aussies that day & win the Cup, but we got too carried away & overawed by the occasion.
History does favour the Aussies, as India has won only once in seven matches against the Aussies in a World Cup, & that too way back in 1987.  Also, India has lost their last four games at Motera, three of them batting first. However, in a crunch match like this, home advantage does matter, as the deafening roar from the crowd should fire the Indians on field & distraught the Aussies. Its now once again the Men in Blue against the baggy green & yellow Aussies from Down Under.

Despite history, my prediction would be 60 : 40 in favour of Indians.