Bangalore : World champions Australia struggled to stifle a yawn as hosts India welcomed back captain Sourav Ganguly for the final stages of the tri-series. Australian captain Ricky Ponting lamented his side may be short of match practice going into the November 18 final in Kolkata after being made to play just two games in 15 days prior to the big day. "It's a bit strange to have that much of a break between games and it is not ideal going into a final," Ponting said ahead of Wednesday's day-night encounter against India in Bangalore.
"But that's the way it is and we've got to put up with it and prepare ourselves as well as we can for Kolkata" Ponting's remarks in an era when teams often complain of over-work may sound strange, but they highlight the lop-sided schedule drawn up for the series by Indian cricket officials. The Australians played four matches in nine days before November 4, but since then they have had just one more game, against New Zealand at Guwahati last Sunday. After Wednesday night's match at the Chinnaswamy stadium, Ponting's men will have five days off before the final at the Eden Gardens next Tuesday.
Australia ensured their place in the final with four wins from five games, leaving New Zealand and India to battle for the other spot. Irrespective of what happens on Wednesday against Australia, India must still defeat New Zealand at Hyderabad on Saturday to advance to the final on Ganguly's home ground. The Indian captain returns after a three-week lay off due to a thigh injury which forced him to miss the second Test against New Zealand and four matches of the One- day series.
"It was very frustrating sitting out and watching the team play," Ganguly said. "I am desperate to get back to action." Coach John Wright said Ganguly's return will bolster the batting which has worked in fits and starts to leave India with just one win in four games. "Sourav is one of the finest batsmen in modern cricket and we welcome him back," Wright said. "He was missed a lot."
Returning to the side along with Ganguly will be dashing opener Virender Sehwag, spinner Anil Kumble and left-arm, seamer Ashish Nehra for his first game since the World Cup final in March. Nehra has fully recovered from a leg injury sustained during the World Cup, while Sehwag and Kumble missed the previous game against New Zealand at Cuttack last week. "Gosh, its such a crunch week," Wright said. "That New Zealand game will be like a semi-final but we must beat Australia as well."
With the Indian team for the upcoming tour of Australia to be named here on Thursday morning, Ganguly's men will not be short of motivation or incentive to do well. Australia are expected to field a full-strength batting line-up on Wednesday after resting Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden against the Kiwis at Guwahati. "We don't want to be changing things around too much leading into a final, so we'll probably be fielding a fairly strong side against India," Ponting said.