Centurion (South Africa): A rattled India will back on its instincts rather than be cowed down by poor form as it takes on favourite Australia in a high-profile Group 'A' World Cup match at Centurion Park on Friday. India, which struggled on its way to victory against greenhorns Holland including the ignominy of being unable to last its full quota of overs, will have to go the whole hog against the defending champion if it is to spring a surprise.
Australia, on the other hand, lived up to its reputation, overcoming the absence of key players Shane Warne, Daren Lehmann and Michael Bevan, to thrash last edition's finalists Pakistan in its opening match. Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly and coach John Wright would rather not worry much about all that and start afresh against a side which has had to bite the dust in some big matches against India. "Sometimes it's better to go by instincts than worry too much," said coach John Wright as he urged his wards to come out firing against the world champion.
Ganguly said it was actually a good thing that they (his players) start Saturday as underdogs. "It's not a bad thing really. The pressure is off and we can do our thing," he said. Australia looks in unstoppable form with its batting and bowling machine working at optimum level and if anything, it is now strengthened by the return of Bevan and Lehmann to the side.
But its game against India would be a sort of grudge match as it had been given the hiding in the final of the Sharjah Cup in 1998, the ICC knock-out tournament in Dhaka the same year and then its next edition in Kenya in 2000 when Ganguly with a young side to put it across Australia. Australia too has had its share of success against the Indians, like in a Super Six game of the 1999 World Cup and triumphing in One-day series in India in the 2001 series.
Australia would be wary of two key Indian players more than others as it looks to maintain its winning momentum. Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh reserve their best against the world champion side. Tendulkar, who has scored 1,626 runs from 33 games against the Australians with six hundreds at an average of 49.27, will open the innings and Australia made it clear the little master would be their chief target.
"We are definitely worried about a class batsman (like) Sachin Tendulkar. He is a kind of batsman who could spell trouble for a bowling side anytime," Australian skipper Ricky Ponting said. "If we knock out a few Indian batsmen early at the start of the innings, it would be a good start. More so if one of those wickets is Tendulkar's," he said. Ponting said Australia would not take India lightly despite its poor performances recently. "We respect everyone and India is no different.
They have some wonderful batsmen and despite failures in New Zealand, they could come back into form anytime." Ponting said the fact that his team had run into Pakistan in its very first game had been good for it. India has been troubled by the opening blues, but Ganguly hinted the side will stick to the same pair as against Holland and perhaps the same 11. The decision means despite mounting criticism of Ganguly's presence at the top, the explosive Virender Sehwag will again come at number three. "Let people say what they want to but we are sticking with the same order," Ganguly said while warning that India must not be taken lightly.
If India's batting has looked at best patchy, the bowling also needs great introspection. India will have to make early inroads into a talented batting line-up, which has Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden at the start of the innings followed by Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and not the least Andrew Symonds, who cracked 141 from a mere 125 balls against Pakistan. All these batsmen were in irresistible form in the triangular series against Sri Lanka and England at home with Hayden (458 in nine matches), Gilchrist (310 in eight) and Ponting (306 in eight) topping the show.
If India manages to have an early look in at the Aussie middle order, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble could hope for assistance from the pitch at a venue where India was twice able to beat South Africa on the strength of its spinners in the past decade. India is hopeful that rusty Zaheer Khan would strike form on time as the talented left-hand seamer looked out of sorts against Holland. India's moment of truth has arrived as any slip up in the next two weeks could shatter their World Cup dreams. It needs to beat at least two of the other four teams in their group - Australia, Pakistan, England and Zimbabwe - to entertain hopes of making it to the Super Six.
Teams (from): India: Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan.
Australia: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan, Andrew Symonds, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brad Hogg, Damien Martyn, Jimmy Maher and Ian Harvey.
Umpires: David Shepherd and Asoka de Silva.
Third umpire: B E Jerling.
Match referee: Clive Lloyd.