Australian pace against Indian spin defines the game’s context

Alone in the middle of the R. Premadasa Stadium on a muggy Thursday afternoon, M.S. Dhoni stared at the pitch. Perhaps it was easier for him to understand the wicket than to make the tough choice he has already made — dropping a batsman and fielding five frontline bowlers — ahead of Friday’s ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights Group II match against Australia.

With the tournament entering its decisive phase, India has made a huge decision to jettison its ‘seven batsmen and four bowlers’ theory.

Harbhajan Singh’s stirring comeback, amplified by England’s meek batsmen, has meant that Virender Sehwag is most likely to receive the cold knock on his door and the attendant bad news.

Sehwag’s form

So far, Sehwag has scored 12, 26 and eight in the two warm-up matches and the Group A clash against Afghanistan.

Runs, or the lack of it, cannot be the only barometer to judge Sehwag as he brings the fear-factor in the rival camp but the complexity of finding the right balance and Harbhajan’s second coming, meant that a hard judgement had to be made.

India is pinning its hopes on Harbhajan and R. Ashwin together laying a trap while its batsmen pile up the runs.

The story so far has been the laboured victory over Afghanistan and the crushing blow against England with the added bonus being the form displayed by Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, besides Gautam Gambhir’s belated assurance.

There are no easy pickings in the Super Eights and with Pakistan and South Africa lined up next, India has to start afresh and surge strong. After the champion’s glow at Johannesburg in 2007, Dhoni’s men have been lukewarm in the subsequent two editions. A win on Friday, can re-ignite their dormant inner fires.

Watson wave

Australia, meanwhile, knocked aside Ireland and with Shane Watson riding a wave, packed enough gunpowder that did not get damp even when the rains swept in during the encounter against the West Indies. Watson’s burly shoulders have carried the team so far, but skipper George Bailey was quick to add: “We are not at a stage where the rest of us just make up the numbers.”

Pat Cummins had already started the caustic chit-chat while alluding to the Indians’ weakness against short-pitched stuff but Dhoni felt that it was an ineffective bogey raised at meandering press conferences.

And to add to the chatter on the sidelines, Greg Chappell has questioned Sehwag’s attitude. All this is part of the drama that encapsulates an evolving rivalry.

Australian pace pitted against Indian spin may well define the game’s context but, more importantly, the ‘Men in Blue’ need to prove that with six batsmen, the job of scoring runs will continue unabated.

Dhoni has redrawn the planning charts and it is time for the team to recalibrate its options and stay on course.

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), G. Gambhir, V. Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, S. Raina, V. Kohli, Rohit Sharma, M. Tiwary, Zaheer Khan, L. Balaji, Irfan Pathan, A. Dinda, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin and P. Chawla.

Australia: G. Bailey (captain), S. Watson, D. Warner, D. Christian, M. Hussey, C. White, M. Wade, P. Cummins, M. Starc, B. Hilfenhaus, C. McKay, B. Hogg, X. Doherty, G. Maxwell and David Hussey.

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Richard Kettleborough; Third umpire: Ian Gould. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

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