In a series that has marginally swung India’s way, it is now the turn of M.S. Dhoni’s men to cope with the uncertainty that injuries trigger. India leads 2-1 against Australia in the Hero Honda Cup series.
However, as the two teams reached Mohali ahead of Monday night’s fourth One Day International of the seven-match series, the injuries afflicting Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have partially dented the force that India gained through victories at Nagpur and Delhi.
On Saturday night when Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni guided India to a six-wicket victory at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium, two incidents caused anxiety within the host dressing room. Peter Siddle’s delivery hurt Sehwag’s feet and Ricky Ponting’s pull cannoned into Gambhir’s head and though the Delhi duo did turn up to bat when India successfully chased Australia’s 229, they looked ill at ease.
Call-up for Karthik
The fears about Sehwag and Gambhir’s fitness were confirmed when the Board of Control for Cricket in India, issued a press release that stated: “Dinesh Karthik has been called up to the Indian squad as cover for Sehwag and Gambhir.”
The release also mentioned that a final decision on the availability of Sehwag and Gambhir would be taken on Monday morning.
In the event of both players failing to make the cut, there will be pressure on the batting line-up. Thankfully Dhoni and Yuvraj are in form, Suresh Raina has a 50 under his belt in this series while Sachin Tendulkar was just getting into his stride before being run out at Delhi.
Tendulkar needs another 47 to score 17,000 runs in ODIs and if he can go well past the milestone here on Monday night, the team will have a good base to spring ahead.
The Indian attack has largely performed well in conditions ranging from placid tracks to dust bowls and even the beleaguered Harbhajan Singh bowled a better line at Delhi though in a spin-friendly environment.
Meanwhile the Australian team is searching for that one victory that might revive its fortunes. At Vadodara, the team scraped through while the Indian tail wagged furiously. At Nagpur, skipper Ponting gaped at his rival counter-part Dhoni’s match-winning 124 and in Delhi, the visitors lost their footing in puffs of dust while Yuvraj firmed up his triumphant stance.
Losing Brett Lee and Tim Paine to injuries has affected team plans and Ponting said: “We are doing the best we can in this situation.”
The batting has revolved around Ponting’s resilience and Michael Hussey’s three consecutive fifties over the past week.
The Australian bowling meanwhile has lost its intimidatory spark through Lee’s absence though Mitchell Johnson’s pace that skids and verbal barbs have lent some drama.
Among the support cast, Doug Bollinger bowled well at Delhi while off-spinner Nathan Hauritz surprisingly lost his control and guile after castling Gambhir.
Ponting spoke about the dew-factor affecting Hauritz as the ball remained wet during the Indian chase and he admitted that the team has to counter the moisture threat. Mohali, closer to the Himalayan foothills, can get cold in the night and dew will affect spinning fingers.
Curator Daljit Singh meanwhile promised a good one-day pitch.
After the opening skirmishes, India gained an edge but with Sehwag and Gambhir remaining doubtful starters, Australia might regain some breath in a venue laced with stringent security measures.
For added inspiration, the team can revert to history. In the 1996 World Cup semifinal here, Australia snatched a five-run victory against the West Indies and never looked back. But then it had a magician called Shane Warne and times have changed.
The teams (from): 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, Amit Mishra and Sudeep Tyagi. Coach: Gary Kirsten.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey (vice-captain), Cameron White, Shane Watson, Graham Manou (wicket-keeper), Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Jon Holland, Moises Henriques and James Hopes. Coach: Tim Nielsen.
Match referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts at 2.30 p.m.