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Aussie opening spell crucial for India

By Barry Richards
March 22, 2003 16:18 IST
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As the Australians and the Indians make their way into another final, I must say that the Indians look the more authoritative side between the two. They seem to be clicking in every department, and their bowling has been the revelation of the tournament. Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra have been doing excellent work in the initial overs, and their fielders have been backing their bowlers well. The batting, which is always the mainstay of an Indian team, looks in fine nick as well, with everybody having a big score behind them by now.

The nature of the one-day game is such that the form on the day rather than form in the tournament is what counts, and if the Australians do well in the final all India's fine form so far will count for nothing.

For the Australians, their batting has been a concern, with the last three games seeing some pretty ordinary shots. The openers have been the crux of the problem. They have not given the starts that they normally give the their team. Matthew Hayden looks short on confidence right now, because he has consistently got starts without being able to kick on from there. His partner, Adam Gilchrist, has only the 99 against Sri Lanka to show for his efforts so far, but the kind of player he is, he will not be too worried. He will and must continue to back himself, because if he clicks, he could take the game away from the Indians in a few overs.

Looking across at the Indians, the openers are getting their side off to a good start in all their games against top sides. This despite the fact that Virender Sehwag has not yet got a really big one. Like Gilchrist, he is an immensely confident player, and must back his instincts and natural strokeplay.

His partner Sachin Tendulkar has been in absolutely great form, and he will be the one everyone will be training their eyes on for the big day. There is no doubt that Sachin is the player to watch out for in the final. The Australians will be unstoppable if he gets out early, while if he clicks, the side is assured of a decent score. The pressure on the little man is immense, but I'm sure he's used to it by now, after all, he has been carrying the burden of expectations for many years now.

The other player I would be interested in watching is the captain Sourav Ganguly. He is coming off a record three centuries in this World Cup, but the fact that they were against Kenya and Namibia does take some shine off the achievement. He would be looking to dominate the Australian bowlers not only because it would get his side to a sound position, but also because it would earn him the respect of the Australians, who always consider him susceptible against pace. A big score in this final will finally silence critics who feel he is not a player who can take on genuine pace.

The support cast of Yuvraj and Mohammad Kaif have shown that they have it in them to be counted if there is a crisis during, the NatWest final. They also save around 15 runs on the field, something the Indian fielders rarely did in the past.

The key is to get through the Aussie opening spell, because the Indians would be relieved at Gillespie's absence. Of course, Andy Bichel has filled in for the injured Gillespie magnificently. However, the Indians were always uncomfortable against the pace off the hand that Gillespie possessed, and would be relieved not to play him. For the Indians the main threat is from the Lee-McGrath combination.

The first 15 overs have to be seen through as these guys are as lethal in the afternoon, should India bat second, as they are first thing in the morning. Tendulkar's combat with these guys will be the duel of the tournament and should provide a fitting finale to the World Cup.

It's the eve of the final but it's pretty difficult to pick favourites even now. Both teams look good enough to emerge champions. So right now it's too close to call.


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Barry Richards