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India can pull it off

By Greg Chappell
March 22, 2003 16:31 IST
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We have got the World Cup final we wanted. Australia with the reputation as the best in the world, and one of the best-ever, while India is the emerging powerhouse.

The battle at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday could be decided on the outcome of the duel between Brett Lee and Sachin Tendulkar. Lee will be the key for Australia as

much as Tendulkar will be for India. The winner of this game within a game may well decide the outcome of this World Cup final.

This final will also be the litmus test for Sourav Ganguly and the new-look Indian team. For the past six weeks they have made steady progress as they have built their confidence upon the foundation of winning cricket matches.

The fact that most of these wins have been easy victories over some eminently beatable teams is not necessarily a concern for them. Winning needs to be practiced as much as any other element of the game.

The blending of youthful exuberance with the experience of the senior players gives the Indian team a look of solidity not evident in recent times. On form it may well be the best team in the competition at this moment. This is good timing!

The strength of the Indian team will always be built around Tendulkar as he is one of the most damaging players ever to have played the game. What is different about this team is that Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif have all shown some form through the tournament.

Despite this depth, I believe Tendulkar will need to play one of his imposing innings at the top of the order to neutralise the danger of Lee. As the pre-eminent player of fast bowling in the world today, Tendulkar has the ability to tame Lee and make the job easier for the others.

The other Australian bowlers do not pose the same threat. No doubt they will bowl well, they always do, but none of them has the explosive pace that can sort the men from the boys quite as definitely as Brett can.

The Wanderer's wicket will offer all bowlers some pace and bounce, but that can work in favour of the batsman if bowlers only rely on pace. We saw what happened to Shoaib Akthar and Waqar Younis when they played India at Centurion Park.

Good players can handle pace -- they find it much more difficult when it is allied to good line and length. Lee is the premier exponent of this destructive triumvirate in world of cricket at the moment.

If Tendulkar can negate Lee's potency, India has the batting talent to make an imposing total. Australia has, seemingly, covered the loss of Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne, but this final may be the proving ground for how well they have really done so. 

Andy Bichel and Bradd Hogg are honest performers, but they do not have the big match experience of Gillespie and Warne. Hogg, in particular, will have the spotlight more acutely upon him. How well he responds could be a defining moment in the final.

Indian batsmen play spin bowling better than most. They use their feet well and are not afraid to loft the ball over the infield. Hogg puts a lot of top-spin on the ball so he does not spin the ball as much as Warne, nor does he have his variety -- to be fair not many do -- so if he can be unsettled he can be taken down.

The balance of the Australian attack will depend on whether Damien Martyn is fit to play. If he is, Harvey may be the one to miss out. Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds and Martyn will share the final ten overs if Lee, McGrath, Bichel and Hogg bowl their full quota. This is another area of vulnerability for the Indian batsmen to exploit.

Lehmann has done well with his left-arm spin in the lead-up games, but should be put under more pressure by this Indian line-up. Symonds is also gettable whether bowling his mediums or his off-spin.

If they can survive the Lee blast, Bichel, Hogg and the part-time bowlers are the ones for India to target.

Australia will want a greater return from their top three batsmen. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting will be disappointed with their return thus far and will be looking to play a decisive hand in the final.

India's pace attack is second only to Australia's in this tournament and may even have the edge on them. Javagal Srinath is a proven performer. How his less experienced partners handle the pressure of the big occasion could well decide the contest.

Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra have both grown considerably as this event has unfolded, but, knowing the Australians, they will be targeted by Gilchrist and Hayden. If they can hold their nerve, Nehra and Zaheer can do much for the Indian cause.

Australia has relied on their middle and lower order to get them out of trouble a number of times lately, but will not want to rely too heavily on them here. Bevan has done well while Symonds has come of age in this tournament. Bichel has also been a bonus with his batting and fielding since coming in as a replacement for Gillespie. 

Australia would like to have Martyn, if fit, to bolster the shaky top order while Lehmann is as solid as anyone going around. Lehmann, Bevan and Symonds have been the engine room of the Australian batting effort so far.

With the two best teams reaching the final, will we see a possible changing of the guard here or will Australia just confirm their position as the best team in either form of the game? Only time will tell! Or will that be Lee or Tendulkar?

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Greg Chappell