Gwalior: With the bitter memories of the World Cup final still fresh in their minds, India will be determined to settle a few old scores when they clash with a depleted Australia in a day-night triangular series encounter In Gwalior on Sunday.
India, who run into Australia for the first time after their forgettable defeat in cricket's biggest show in South Africa early this year, will look to exploit the depleted bowling attack of the champions and extract their pound of flesh this time around in home conditions. The fearsome four of Australia -- Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Brett Lee -- are all missing from the attack though the hosts themselves have their share of woes in the bowling department with World Cup heroes Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra missing from their line-up.
In relative terms, India may be better placed as far as fielding the best available side is concerned, but the task at their hand remains equally challenging, a fact reflected in Australian skipper Ricky Ponting's remark that his team has been winning even without some of the key players for quite some time now. "We see the entire thing as a team effort. We don't win because of our bowlers or batsmen. We win because of our team effort," he said. "Even during the World Cup we didn't have a couple of key players. But we have always found someone to do the job," the skipper said while admitting bowlers are most likely to be pushed to the background on the flat Gwalior track.
Also working on the minds of the Indians would be the presence of world's new highest run maker Matthew Hayden in the Aussie batting line-up that also boasts of other run-machines in Ponting, his deputy Adam Gilchrist and Micheal Bevan. The biggest threat for the Indian bowlers would be Hayden who seems to thrive in Indian conditions. He rattled up 514 runs in three Tests in the last tour in 2001 to shoot into prominence and cement his place in the side. In fact with a batting strength that runs upto the number nine, it will be interesting to see how the Indian bowlers made to sweat by New Zealand batsmen in the second Test in Mohali contain their scoring spree.
Indian bowlers have not had a taste of the shorter version of the game as their tri- series opener against New Zealand was abandoned due to rain after just 26 overs of batting by the hosts. But it was heartening to see Indian batsmen going all out and playing an attacking game despite losing a couple of quick wickets. Sachin Tendulkar, who failed to get going in the drawn two-Test series against the Kiwis, was finally among runs scoring an unbeaten 48 and it would be interesting to see how he sizes up against Hayden. Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman stood out with some audacious stroke-making but stand- in captain Rahul Dravid will have to prove that the mantle of captaincy is not putting too much pressure on him.
Dravid, promoted after skipper Sourav Ganguly was ruled out of the second cricket Test as well as the first few matches of the tri series due to an abscess in his left thigh, showed great form in the first Test. But ever since, including the second Test at Mohali and the Chennai opener, he has looked out of sorts. With the wicketkeeping role taken off his back by specialist Parthiv Patel, Dravid can now concentrate on his batting and set an example for his young side by leading from the front. India are most likely to field the same eleven that was picked for the Chennai match while Australia are keeping their strategy and their final XI under wraps.
Andy Bichel, who has never toured India before, and his fellow Queenslander Michael Kasprowicz could take the new ball. Nevertheless, the final team composition of the visitors would be closely watched. India can draw heart from the fact that they won the last match they played at the Roop Singh Stadium here in 1999 against New Zealand by 14 runs. Of the last nine matches that the ground has hosted, India have won five and all these matches have seen scores in the league of 250. But the Indian team knows playing against the Canary Yellows is a different proposition altogether as is evident from recent One-day exchanges that have seen Australia rule the roost. They won the last One-day series that they played in India in 2001 3-2 and defeated the Indians twice by big margins in the World Cup.