WC 2003 - Clash of the Giants: Aus takes on India in ideal finish

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2003, 18:43 [IST]
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Johannesburg: After 53 matches in six weeks of competition, the two best teams at the 2003 World Cup will contest Sunday's final at the Wanderers when defending champion Australia faces India.There have been few classic matches at the tournament so far but, with both sides laden with match-winners, Sunday's showdown should be something special.The contest could boil down to which of the teams' much-vaunted top-orders is better able to resist the opposition's pace bowlers.Australia speedster Brett Lee took three for 36 against India in a nine-wicket thrashing of India during a group match at Centurion last month.But India has since won eight games on the trot and its seam attack of Javagal Srinath and youthful left-armers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra has taken 49 wickets between them at the tournament. "The thing that has stood out for me is their fast bowling - and that has done some damage," said Australian captain Ricky Ponting.But Lee, who has been up round the 100mph mark, has the kind of pure speed that can defeat the reactions of even the world's best batsmen. "There is bound to be some short stuff," Ponting admitted. "But as much as the pace, the length that you bowl is important."We saw that when Brett got Ganguly and Sehwag with full length balls at Centurion."But opener Sachin Tendulkar is in prime form. He has already broken his own record for most runs at a World Cup with 669.With India in only its second World Cup final it won for the first and only time in 1983 - Tendulkar will be desperate for one more big score. But he knows now that others in the top order can take the strain.Australia's batsmen have failed to fire in its last three matches although the bottom-order has ensured it posted totals which gave the bowlers more than enough to defend. "Every team has a bit of a weakness. If the top-order gets out quickly it exposes the middle-order. But in every game one of them has stood up," Ganguly said.Australia, which lost champion leg spinner Shane Warne to a drugs ban on the morning of its first match against Pakistan, has remained unbeaten at the tournament so far in its bid to become the first nation to win three World Cups.Its record of 16 consecutive One-day victories makes it the team to beat.All-rounder Andy Bichel sums up the strength of Australian cricket. Destined for a bit part role, the gutsy Queenslander seized his chance following Jason Gillespie's calf injury, starring with both bat and ball in Australia's wins over England and New Zealand - two rare occasions when his team were tested.Bichel now has a tournament batting average of 117 and the paceman leads the Australian bowling figures with 15 wickets at just 9.3 apiece.Hard-hitting Andrew Symonds has also come to the party with 326 runs.India eased into the final with a 91-run win over minnows Kenya on Thursday, Ganguly scoring an unbeaten 111.But wicket-keeper Rahul Dravid let through 16 byes and injured a finger, although he is expected to be fit.However, Australia batsman Damien Martyn's finger injury is unlikely to heal in time.Ponting's team will start favourite but for India - whose cricket crazy public is the most demanding in the world - that will make no difference."There will be pressure on both sides," said Ganguly. "The World Cup final has to be a pressure game." That much is assured.·India penfix   ·Aus penfix   ·WC averages   ·Form guide   ·Head to headCopyright AFP 2001

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