Indian cricket fans will be treated to a lip-smacking appetizer ahead of the World Cup banquet when their side will take on World Champions Australia in a warm-up match at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday, Feb 13.
The sub-continenters will have a lot to prove in the game. As favourites to win the mega-tournament this time around, they will want to go into the Cup having beaten the best. Plus, there's nothing more encouraging entering such a high stakes tournament than carrying the momentum of a win into it. Plus, players whose showing have been wishy-washy over the last few months or have been out with injury, will want to regain touch and strike form.
India may be inclined to think that they are on-top of the Aussies, having beaten them in the two sides' last one-day engagement, which in turn may allow a smattering of over-confidence to settle on the home team's outlook. Rather, India should be wary of the fact that in the 21 encounters against the side from Down Under since the last World Cup, they have claimed victory just 8 times, losing to the Aussies on 10 occasions with 3 no-results.
India will also have to take into account that they will be up against a vastly different side, in terms of composition, to the outfit they beat in October last year. Only five players from that largely-second string squad are in the World Cup XV - Michael Clarke, Cameron White, Steven Smith, Tim Paine and John Hastings. Australia have more than regrouped since their last tour of India and have jelled into a formidable unit, thrashing England 6-1 in the recently-concluded ODI series down under.
Will India be able to temper the destructive verve of Shane Watson? After all, he was the highest scorer in that series (after England's Jonathan Trott) with an aggregate of 306 runs from 6 matches at an impressive average of 61.20 and a staggering strike rate of 102.34.
Come-back man Brett Lee too appears to have had a fruitful outing with a table-topping 11 wickets from 6 games at an average of 24.00, while leg-spinner Steven Smith garnered 8 wickets from the same number of matches at an incredible average of 17.25.
It indeed looks like India are up against a tough opposition in Australia. But as far as the number game goes, India too has some encouraging figures to fall back on. A total of 6 batsmen in India's World Cup squad have notched up centuries against the Aussies since the last quadrennial event, with Tendulkar emerging as the top run-getter with an average of 45.55 and a strike rate of nearly 80.
In comparison, since May 2007, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds, who are incidentally no longer on the ODI scene, have been the most successful Aussie batsmen against India, with averages of 51.90 and 47.18, respectively. Meanwhile, Ricky Ponting, who is still surviving in the team, is the next most prosperous batsman against India from Down Under, with an average of 46.60 and a strike rate of just over 80, figures comparable to Tendulkar (against Australia).
So, it will be interesting to see how these digits translate when India and Australia take to the field on Sunday.Will Tendulkar pick up from where he left off against an old foe or will some of the youngsters in the team come to the fore? And just how hard will Ponting and Co. hit back? A scintillating fixture is on the cards.