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Can Ganguly set the Indian house in order?

By S. Dinakar

BACK IN BUSINESS: India captain Sourav Ganguly (second from right) and Ashish Nehra, who return after injury, and Anil Kumble, back after his father's death, along with Yuvraj Singh (left extreme) at the team's practice session in Bangalore on Tuesday. — Photos: K. Bhagya Prakash

Bangalore Nov. 11. Sourav Ganguly, affectionately called `dada', is back in the thick of things and that's welcome news for India.

The heat is on the home side and the aggressive streak that Ganguly brings with him as captain should rub off on the rest of the team as it takes on Australia in a day-night clash at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday.

Though the final league game against New Zealand has now acquired the status of a knock-out duel, there is no denying the importance of the Australian encounter.

Winning is a habit and during the gruelling journey in the tri-nation series, the Indians seem to have lost it, at least temporarily.

Winning is also a lot about momentum and the confidence gained after every success. A setback at the hands of Australia before the crunch clash against the Kiwis would surely not help the Indian morale.

Behind the Kiwis by a point, the Indians, who have nine from four games, might find themselves in a mess if the Hyderabad match is rained out, in case they do not win against Australia.

According to the tournament rules, in the event of a tie between two sides, the head-to-head record, the number of bonus points and the net run-rate will separate the teams in that order.

There is a possibility that even if India manages a point from Wednesday's encounter, it would put it on par with the Kiwis at 10, and yet could miss out if the November 15 match is abandoned due to inclement weather.

Having defeated India at Cuttack, New Zealand is better off on head-to-head count and as the run-rate will not decide the second team, it is a must win situation for India in Hyderabad.

The fact that teams losing have been able to gain a point has raised a few hackles, the logic being that bonus point should go only to a winning side. The technical panel of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) took up the issue with the International Cricket Council (ICC) during early September, but the ICC stuck to its guns.

The Indian batting will be strengthened by the return of Ganguly. Virender Sehwag too has recovered from an ankle-injury but whether he would recover his form remains to be seen. As Ganguly said at the press conference, left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra may get the nod for the game, which suggests that it could be a choice between Zaheer Khan, who has run into problems against the Aussies, and Ajit Agarkar for a spot in the eleven. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are the front-runners for the two spinners' slots. Both Hemang Badani and Murali Kartik had a decent outing in Cuttack, but one of them is likely to sit out, which is a pity.

Aussie captain Ricky Ponting, his team sitting pretty with 23 points, said his side would take the game seriously and that both Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were likely to play.

The Indian tour of Australia just approaching, the Aussies have already begun playing mind games, what with Hayden saying that the Indians lacked mental toughness. There is also so much talk about `trying to bounce the Indians out' in the Aussie camp.

Ganguly himself tried to downplay the issue of gamesmanship from the Aussies which could have been a deliberate ploy from the Indian captain, who is certain to respond at the appropriate time and place.

The pitch is expected to produce plenty of runs, but the evening dew is bound to be a definite factor in day-night games in Bangalore during this part of the year. While there might be a hint of encouragement for the pacemen early on, the spinners and the fielders might find it tough to grip the ball as the game progresses.

The teams (from):

India: Sourav Ganguly (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Hemang Badani, Murali Kartik and Parthiv Patel. Coach: John Wright.

Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Clark, Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, Andy Bichel, Nathan Bracken, Brad Williams, Brad Hogg, Michael Kasprowicz and Jimmy Maher. Coach: John Buchannan.

Umpires: David Shepherd & A.V. Jayaprakash. Third umpire: K. Hariharan. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Hours of play: 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 6.45 p.m. onwards.

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