A dry pitch drew attention here on Friday. M.S. Dhoni and Ricky Ponting had a long look at it, trying to figure out their strategies while mulling over their spin-bank as India and Australia geared up on the eve of the third One-Day International of the Hero Honda Cup series.
Saturday’s day/night match here at the Ferozshah Kotla Stadium pits two teams that are level at 1-1 and have flexed batting muscle in varying shades earlier at Vadodara and Nagpur. However, the willow wielders, armed with statistical knowledge about the recent Champions League games here, will walk in with a touch on trepidation.
Understandably the re-laid Kotla track has attracted brickbats after the recent games here denied runs and dented egos of batsmen. In the eight Champions League games here, 104 wickets tumbled on a pitch that was slow and low and hindered strokes.
Dhoni’s plans of spinning a web will depend on Harbhajan Singh overcoming his patchy displays of 1-57 and 1-62 in the earlier two games. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja has shown promise and guile but it will be interesting to observe how he evolves once the Aussies get used to him.
Leg-spinner Amit Mishra has warmed the benches and he might continue to do so if Dhoni believes that part-timers like Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina can do their bit on a pitch with its bias towards spinners. The seam trio of Aashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma acquitted themselves well during India’s 99-run victory at Nagpur and early incisions by them will expose the frailties in the Australian lower-order.
The batting seems well set with Dhoni leading the pack with his 124 at Nagpur while Gautam Gambhir has notched up two consecutive fifties.
However, the challenge lies in how well the batsmen, used to plonking their front foot and hitting through the line, will cope with a sluggish pitch that will force them to recalibrate their bat-speed and foot movements.
Meanwhile Australia, plagued by injuries, is suddenly grappling for a toehold after arriving in India with a swagger gained from its Champions Trophy triumph in South Africa.
After defeating India by four runs at Vadodara, Ponting’s men ran into Dhoni, who proved overwhelming at Nagpur and took the game away.
Brett Lee, nursing a sore elbow, will miss the match and series and James Hopes too will not be part of the starting line-up while Ponting expects Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle to cope with an aggressive Indian line-up.
Off-spinner Nathan Hauritz and left-arm spinner Adam Voges have the twin challenge of shackling the Indian batsmen besides living up to the expectation of striking in tandem on a turf that is friendly to spin bowling. Left-arm spinner Jon Holland is also an option weighing on Ponting’s mind.
Watson yet to fire
Tim Paine’s absence atop the order due to injury might pave the way for a promotion to Shaun Marsh. Michael Hussey, with two fifties in the series so far, has looked compact and confident but allrounder Shane Watson is yet to fire.
It also remains to be seen how a jet-lagged Graham Manou will cope with the challenges of keeping wickets on an Indian pitch. Manou has arrived after Paine flew back home with a broken finger.
The choice of electing to bat first or opting to chase on winning the toss might test both captains. Ponting admitted that he is tempted to bat first and tide past the pitch’s alleged vagaries while Dhoni refused to comment. However, with winter slowly setting in, the dew factor might affect bowlers later in the night though at Nagpur there was no impact.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Aashish 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, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Jon Holland, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, James Hopes and Moises Henriques. Coach: Tim Nielsen.
Umpires: Shavir Tarapore and Amish Saheba; Third umpire: Sanjay Hazare. Match referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts at 2.30 p.m.