Kolkata: Restoring their confidence with a resounding victory in the last match, a resurgent India will rely on their batting might as they go into the TVS Cup triangular cricket series final with greater conviction of being able to tame the formidable Australians. But the Indians are aware that nothing but an extra-ordinary display is the need of the hour to stop the Australian juggernaut from rolling to another title triumph in what promises to be a classic contest of nerves and skills.
Sourav Ganguly and his men, desperate to bury the ghost of the World Cup final, will turn to the nearly one-lakh spectators who are expected to throng the majestic Eden Gardens for inspiration in their quest to conquer the world champions who look quite unstoppable at the moment. Barring the defeat against the Indians in their opening match in Gwalior, the reigning monarchs of world cricket have hardly been tested in the series with five consecutive wins and will be determined to cap their impressive sequence by clinching the title at the floodlit Eden Gardens on Tuesday.
With both teams boasting of quality batsmen in their ranks, the tussle for supremacy could well turn out to be a batting war as bowling has been the weak link for both the sides. While the Indians will be hoping that the law of average catches up with their famed opponents, Ganguly knows that his team's character and resilience will face its biggest test in the series. "If we can play as well as we did at Hyderabad, then we stand a good chance of winning," Ganguly said. For the Aussies, the venue is steeped in nostalgia.
It was at the Eden that the men from Down Under edged out England in the final to lift the coveted World Cup for the first time in 1987, and Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting would be hoping to win yet another final. India have fond memories of hosting Australia in the longer version of the game the last time around in 2001. V V S Laxman scripted an Indian record of 281, as the home side caused a fascinating turnaround culminating in a historic win to level the series.
However, with the dew likely to make batting difficult in the evening session, the toss may play a vital role in determining the course of the match. Ganguly said as much. "Yes, I think the toss will be crucial." History shows that the side batting first has won six out of the eight day-night international matches at the Eden. The Indian batting has been built around little master Sachin Tendulkar, who has been in awesome form.
He leads the run scorers chart notching up 421 at a highly impressive average of 84.2, inclusive of two strokeful hundreds. The dashing Virender Sehwag, who had disappointed his fans with a dismal show from his blade in the earlier stages of the tourney, now seems to have at last found his rhythm. On a high after scoring a career best 130 at Hyderabad, he would surely want to continue the good work with another substantial contribution with the bat.
The Australian batting, known for its lethal ability to tear apart any bowling, is spearheaded by the swashbuckling Adam Gilchrist, regarded by many as the best ever wicketkeeper-batsman of the game. Gilchrist has been in mesmerising form in this tournament giving Australia flying starts match after match. Gilchrist's opening partner Matthew Hayden, who has not been at his shining best so far, will also be keen to come out with something spectacular on the 'Big Day' to do justice to his reputation.
Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, the nemesis of the Indian bowlers in the World Cup final, gave the hosts a taste of the same medicine in the Bangalore match last week, when he launched an audacious assault to score 108 runs of only 102 balls, hitting seven sixes on the way. Crisis man Michael Bevan, who pulled Australia out of the dumps against the Kiwis at Guwahati, Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds are all capable of murdering any bowling attack on their day. The Aussie bowling, believed to have been weakened in the absence of their battery of frontline pacers, have got a new lease of life, thanks to the new ball pair of Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams.
While the former has picked up 13 wickets, the latter has got three less in the tournament so far. The Indian team, on the other hand, needs to ponder over the bowling combination they would use against their mighty opponents. None of the Indian bowlers have so far been able to show consistency, and this is one area likely to cause worries to the team think-tank.
However, considering the nature of the wicket, which seems likely to take turn, the Indians may opt for two regular spinners, with Sachin Tendulkar also likely to bowl his off-spin stuff for some overs. All tickets for the match have been sold, but still there seems to be a never-ending scramble near the venue round-the- clock for the elusive passports to the ground.
India (from): Sourav Ganguly (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V V S Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik, Hemang Badani, Avishkar Salvi, Parthiv Patel.
Australia (from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken, Jimmy Maher, Michael Kasprowicz and Michael Clarke.
Umpires: A V Jayaprakash (Ind) and D Shepherd (Eng). Third umpire: K Hariharan. Fourth umpire: K G Lakshminarayanan. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle. Hours of play (IST): 14.30 hours to 18.00 hours, 18.45 hours to 22.15 hours.