It is a contest that tickles the senses and largely lives up to the hype. However, when India takes on Australia in the opening game of the seven-match Hero Honda Cup One Day International series at the Reliance Stadium here on Sunday, M.S. Dhoni’s men will be up against an in-form team that also has an historical advantage.
Ricky Ponting’s squad remains the top team in ODIs as evident in the recent title triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa. Add to it history’s fine print, which states that when India last played at Vadodara in 2007, the team suffered a nine-wicket defeat against Australia. Australia won that limited overs series 4-2.
India last won a bilateral series against Australia in 1986 at home when Kapil Dev led the team to a 3-2 triumph over Allan Border’s men.
Subsequently Indian teams over the years have often played catch-up with an upbeat Australia though title triumphs in the Titan Cup at home in 1996 and the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia during 2008, was largely fashioned out by keeping the Aussies at bay though other teams too were in the fray.
Sunday’s game pits two teams that are moving through a phase of transition with different results. Australia seems to be coping better with the exit of giants like of Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath and the team has also taken the injury-enforced absence of key players like Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, in its stride.
India meanwhile is waiting for players like Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli to meld potential with consistency while a batsman of proven pedigree like Rahul Dravid has been left behind in Bangalore with whispers of his ‘age’ being bandied around as an excuse for his omission.
The explosive duo of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh are just coming back from injuries and until they fire, Dhonis’ headache could get worse. Yuvraj though is a doubtful starter for the first match.
It helps that Sachin Tendulkar, requiring 97 runs to cross the 17,000-mark in ODIs, lends a calm head atop the order though Gautam Gambhir’s mixed returns of just two 50s in the last 10 innings he batted, could be a cause for worry.
Gambhir shadow-played a few shots on the pitch here on Saturday and will be hoping that he will be at his best against an attack that features a rejuvenated Brett Lee, who is enjoying his Champions League heroics for New South Wales, besides Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
However it remains to be seen whether Lee, who flew in from Hyderabad later in the night, will be fresh for Sunday’s clash.
The senior role
The Indian attack will bank on Harbhajan Singh to don the senior role while the seamers led by Ashish Nehra have to strike early. Ishant, who is busy searching for confidence and rhythm, had a long spell, focussing on a single stump here on Saturday.
A probing Ishant can fetter the Aussie batsmen guided by Ponting and featuring the likes of Watson, high on his two centuries in the Champions Trophy besides Cameron White and Michael Hussey, who is just emerging from a slump.
The dry brown pitch promises runs though dew might play a marginal role in the morning while both teams are keen to work up the needed momentum to last a seven-match series.
Meanwhile a slogan — Winning is everything - written on a sign-board near the gate leading into the venue, is a pointer to the edge that will linger in the contests between the two teams over the next three weeks.
The teams: India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, A. Mishra and Sudeep Tyagi. Coach: Gary Kirsten.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey (vice-captain), Cameron White, Shane Watson, Tim Paine (wicket-keeper), Shaun Marsh, James Hopes, Adam Voges, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Jon Holland. Coach: Tim Nielsen.
Umpires: Mark Benson and Shavir Tarapore; Third umpire: Amish Saheba; Match referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts at 9 a.m.