New Delhi: Injuries to key players has cast a shadow on the One-day triangular series between World Champions Australia, New Zealand and hosts India starting on Thursday. The high-profile series that sees Australia and India clash for the first time since their World Cup final in Johannesburg in March has lost much of its sheen because of the forced absence of some top players. Ricky Ponting's Australians have been the worst hit with their entire first-choice bowling attack wiped out. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill and Darren Lehmann have all been laid low with injuries, while star spinner Shane Warne is in the midst of a one-year ban on drug-related charges. New Zealand, who take on India in Thursday's opener at Chennai, are missing express bowler Shane Bond and frontline batsman Nathan Astle, who returned home after the Test series due to a knee injury.
The hosts too have not been spared injury woes with influential captain Sourav Ganguly ruled out for the first part of the series following two operations on the left thigh to remove abscess from painful boils. The absence of left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra and veteran paceman Javagal Srinath, heroes of India's World Cup campaign, depletes the hosts further. Each team plays the other thrice in the preliminary league with the top two advancing to the final at Calcutta's Eden Gardens on November 18. That the 10-match series still promises to draw full houses is indicative of the huge popularity the Limited Overs game enjoys in this cricket-mad country.
The dull 0-0 deadlock in the Tests between India and New Zealand which ended on Monday has already been consigned to the record books as fans await the slam-bang excitement of One-day cricket. The powerful batting line-up of the rivals, led by record-breaking Sachin Tendulkar of India and Matthew Hayden of Australia, will be a major draw. Australia may have lost all its key bowlers, but the batting remains formidable in the form of Hayden, Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds. Hayden goes into the series after a world record score of 380 in the first Test against Zimbabwe earlier this month, while Ponting hit a magnificent century to flatten India in the World Cup final.
New Zealand, buoyant after giving India a fright in the Test matches, have been bolstered by the return of seasoned all-rounder Chris Cairns and veteran Chris Harris for the One-dayers. Tendulkar, the most successful batsman in limited-Overs history with 12,219 runs and 34 centuries, returns to the One-day fold for the first time since his record- smashing tally of 673 in the World Cup. Tendulkar, who had a rare failure at home in the New Zealand Tests, stand-in captain Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag are expected to shoulder India's batting in Ganguly's absence. Australia, who take on India in their first match at Gwalior on Sunday, will arrive here on Thursday.
Schedule of the One-day triangular series in India: Oct 23: India v New Zealand, Madras (day-night) Oct 26: India v Australia, Gwalior (day-night) Oct 29: Australia v New Zealand, Faridabad Nov 1: India v Australia, Bombay (day-night) Nov 3: Australia v New Zealand, Pune Nov 6: India v New Zealand, Cuttack (day-night) Nov 9: Australia v New Zealand, Guwahati Nov 12: India v Australia, Bangalore (day-night) Nov 15: India v New Zealand, Hyderabad (day-night) Nov 18: Final, Calcutta (day-night).