Durban: With emphatic wins in their previous matches, resurgent India and England lock horns in a battle-royale in a day-night encounter on Wednesday knowing well that the winner of the game gets into the Super Six round of the World Cup. England, currently placed second with three wins (12 points) from four games, will be virtually through to the next round if it subdues India in its penultimate league game. India, also with three wins out of four games, needs a win against England or Pakistan on March 1, to make it to the next round.
If it does reach the Super Six stage it will exactly be the excuse the nation needs to come to a standstill on account of cricket fever. India's batting has begun to bloom to its original pink and a 300-plus total against Namibia the other day should inspire its celebrated line-up to still better deeds. Indian batsmen had completely dominated England attack in the Tests and One-dayers in an away series last summer with batsmen after batsmen piling runs by hundreds. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag hit no less than six hundreds between them in the four-Test series and when the final of the NatWest One-day series beckoned, youngsters Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif climbed the mountain of 326 runs effortlessly.
The England bowling is still more or less the same except for the introduction of James Anderson, who in a little matter of three months, has grabbed headlines with his penetrative pace bowling. Anderson first shot into limelight in the triangular series in Australia with 13 wickets from nine games, generating uncomfortable pace and hustling the best of batsmen. He had a modest game against Namibia at the start of this World Cup but was virtually unplayable against Pakistan, annihilating a classy middle order to return figures of 4 for 29 in his 10 overs.
Indian coach John Wright, however, said his team's batting had enough firepower in it to dominate the likes of Anderson. "We haven't seen a lot of Anderson but he had a good night the other day," Wright said. "But we have got one or two players who can put the best of bowlers under pressure." Anderson's hot pace is well-complimented by Andrew Caddick at the other end whose pace and bounce restricts scoring to a trickle.
Craig White and Andrew Flintoff are useful back up bowlers of different styles. While White keeps a nagging length and is a classy exponent of reverse swing with the old ball, Flintoff is extremely aggressive and likes to pin batsmen on the back foot. Caddick started the mind games saying he would look to take Sachin Tendulkar's wicket early on now that the master batsman was comig as an opener. "I am more than happy if Tendulkar opens because then I have a chance to get him early on. When he comes at number four, the ball is slightly old and is not doing much," Caddick said.
Caddick said England had an answer to Tendulkar in Michael Vaughan, who was declared fit after a scan on his injured right calf revealed no major damages. The England bowling threat notwithstanding, India can look forward to good knocks from Tendulkar and Ganguly on account of their century-making efforts against Namibia. But Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid have not been in the best of forms in this competition. Sehwag has 70 runs from four innings at an average of 17.50 while Dravid has 61 runs from four matches at an average of 20.33 per innings.
The three young batsmen of the side, Dinesh Mongia, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif are bunched together for the number five, six and seven slots but their poor form adds an element of uncertainty in the line-up. Mongia has scored 67 runs (42, 12, 13, didn't bat - DNB), Yuvraj has 45 (37, 1, 0 and 7 not out) and Kaif 35 (9, 1, 25, DNB) from three completed innings of the competition and hardly resemble the young batsmen who were expected to lead India's batting charge in the next decade. England has its own share of batting worries with Marcus Trescothick not in the best of forms. But, the news on Michael Vaughan has a lot to cheer for the England camp.
Vaughan experienced pain in his calf while forging a half century - his third 50 in four innings - against Pakistan on Saturday and was still receiving treatment on the eve of the match. The pitch at Kingsmead usually supports fast bowlers but Indians have had a good idea about the strip as they spent their lead-up days to the competition at this scenic city. Wright said his boys know what to expect from this pitch and was encouraged by the fact that Bangladesh, in a practice game, was able to beat Kwazulu Natal even while batting under lights.
"It showed the One-day pitch at Kingsmead is consistent through the length of a 100- over game and it promises a good game tomorrow," Wright said. India will not be short of support at the ground as Durban boasts of the biggest Indian population outside India in the world. There will thus be tricolours aplenty in the stands as supporters are arriving from across the globe, including a 'Bharat Army', a funny take off on the (in) famous Barmy Army of England. India has met England 47 times in One-dayers and emerged victors in 22 games, losing 23 matches with no result in two games.
In World Cup, India has won two and lost three in five match-ups against England. It will be their first win at the Kingsmead ground for either England or India. England has played one game and lost it at this venue. India has played four and lost three with one game ending as no result. Ganguly would be very keen to improve upon these figures on Wednesday.