Sydney, Feb 25: It is now or never for Team India. MS Dhoni and his men have to win their remaining two matches to have a smooth passage to the tri-series finals.
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The first of the two hurdles will appear in Sydney as India take on Australia. They find themselves in a tight spot and a loss at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Sunday will end their tri-series dreams.
Since landing in Australia in December, 2011, India have been struggling. Be it the Test series or the shorter formats, defeats have easily outnumbered victories for the Dhoni-led side.
They were humiliated 0-4 in Tests, and they drew the Twenty20 International series 1-1. In the ongoing tri-series they have managed just two successes in six attempts of which, one was a thrilling tie against Sri Lanka.
In all, India have just three wins to show on the tour. On a disastrous trip like this, India will have to lift themselves up for the last couple of games and make the finals. Or else they will take an early fight back home to face the music from fans.
Sri Lanka's last-over win over the hosts on Friday in Hobart has made India's path to the finals even more difficult. The World Cup 2011 finalists sit on top of the points tally with 15. Australia are second with 14 while India are lying low at the bottom with 10. At one stage, the roles had reversed with India at number one and their Asian neighbours in third.
All three teams have completed six games and two more remain for each one before the top nations face off in the best-of-three finals starting in Brisbane next Sunday, on March 4.
India are still battling with selection issues. An out-of-form team doesn't need rotation policy but they have stuck to that.
Virender Sehwag is short of runs and confidence. So is young Rohit Sharma. Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run scorer in ODIs, has only 90 runs to show in five games. He is under huge pressure to deliver. There have been suggestions that the Mumbai veteran should call it a day from this format of the game. Sunday presents an opportunity for Tendulkar to silence all his critics with a big contribution when the team needs the most.
Gautam Gambhir has found form with a couple of nineties and he is the key yet again at the top of the order. Virat Kohli is also in form while left-hander Suresh Raina needs to come good.
With Dhoni returning from a one-match ban due to slow over rate, Parthiv Patel will make way for him. Rohit had to sit out of the previous game and he will continue to remain on the sidelines as Dhoni said they have discarded the rotation policy due to injuries.
"We are not looking to rotate. It's injuries which are now rotating the players. It's not in our control. I had said we would rotate in the first half of the tournament because then you could rotate, it didn't put pressure on us because we were in early part of the tournament. But now it's do-or-die match. The best eleven players should play unless and until injury is an issue," said Dhoni.
India, while chasing, have been heavily dependent on Dhoni. If it goes the same way, others in the team needs to stand up and support their captain.
The coin toss has gone in favour of India only once in six games. And in all six matches, India have batted second. Barring the first game against Australia in Melbourne, where Dhoni won the toss and opted to field, the opposition captain has got the luck going in his favour and batted on all five other occasions.
It will be ideal for India to be lucky on Sunday with the spin of the coin and bat first. It would make the task easier if they post a huge total.
India's bowling is doing a decent job with Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin and Irfan Pathan. The experience of Zaheer Khan will be missed here in this crunch game as he has a calf injury. Vinay is also down with a hamstring problem but is not entirely ruled out, according to Dhoni on Saturday.
Australia, on the other hand, will be hurt after losing in a high-scoring match on Friday. Shane Watson, returning from injury break, did not play against Sri Lanka and might feature this time in place of Daniel Christian. They too have their share of problems with opener David Warner out of touch.
Peter Forrest has further strengthened his international credentials with a fine ton at number three against Sri Lanka. Skipper Michael Clarke, Hussey brothers - Michael and David have been in good batting form. Bowling rests in the experienced hands of veteran fast bowler Brett Lee.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), Shane Watson (vice-captain), David Warner/Daniel Christian, Peter Forrest, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Matthew Wade, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris, Xavier Doherty, Brett Lee.
India: MS Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Praveen Kumar or Vinay Kumar, Irfan Pathan.
Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Simon Taufel (Australia)
Third Umpire: Simon Fry (Australia)
Match Referee: Chris Broad (England)
Match starts at 8.50 AM IST
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