The Commonwealth Bank ODI tri-series has picked up tempo. Sri Lanka routing Australia at the SCG on Friday has opened up the competition. The final six league matches promise suspense-filled action.
India faces off with Australia at the Gabba here on Sunday. India has 10 points and Australia nine from four matches.
Sri Lanka, which discovered the fire within at the SCG, will be watching the proceedings here keenly. Mahela Jayawardene's men, with seven points, are within striking distance of both India and Australia.
The Gabba is a very Australian venue and the surface here is expected to offer pace, bounce and seam movement. The batsmen are likely to be tested in the corridor.
It was here, though, that M.S. Dhoni's men bucked the odds to defeat Australia in the second final and triumph in the 2008 tri-series. In fact, India has won its last two ODIs at the Gabba against Australia.
This will be a good time for a resurgent Indian ODI team to meet Australia after the host line-up had been so ruthlessly exposed against telling seam and swing by a bunch of efficient Sri Lankan pacemen on a lively SCG track.
Nightmare for Ponting
Indeed, Ricky Ponting's return as a stand-in captain began with a nightmare in Sydney. He will, however, lead Australia again with Michael Clarke ruled out of the contest.
Australian physio Alex Kountouri said Clarke, despite recovering well from a strained hamstring, will be unavailable for the match in Brisbane. After the humiliating setback on Friday, Ponting will want his side to come back hard.
The Aussies have roped in specialist batsman George Bailey after a lower back injury ended pace-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh's tournament.
The home side has more fitness worries. Left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty has a back spasm and another left-armer Jon Holland has joined the team as cover.
Sehwag may not play
India might once again be without Virender Sehwag since the opener is yet to recover fully from a back spasm. Gautam Gambhir, with innings of 92 and 91 behind him, is in form. And a bouncy Gabba could stoke Sachin Tendulkar's combative instincts.
On this venue, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina would have to pull their weight. A combination of movement and lift could probe their temperament and technique. Kohli showed fight in the Test series. Rohit and Raina need to display character when conditions favour pacemen.
It should not be left to Dhoni to find escape routes time and again. Others too need to take up responsibility in the climactic phase.
Zaheer Khan, who appears to have overcome a niggle in his calf, is expected to return to the eleven. This means another left-arm paceman Irfan Pathan — he bowled with reasonable control in Adelaide — could make way for Zaheer.
India could mull playing a fourth seamer but might eventually settle for two spinners. And if there is bounce at the 'Gabba, the lanky off-spinner with a high-arm action, R. Ashwin, could play. Ashwin has disappointed against the Aussies so far — the batsmen have used their feet and picked the carrom ball — but could trouble the host if he focused on conventional off-spin with subtle change in trajectory.
Australia has problems in batting with too much hinging on the in-form David Hussey. The hard-hitting David Warner, paradoxically, appears to be relishing the open spaces in Test match cricket than the strong infield of the ODIs.
And Ponting's scores in the tri-series so far have been 2, 1, 6, 2. Given his exceptional ability, though, a start could change his fortunes.
The Aussies could include paceman Ben Hilfenhaus in the eleven. If the conditions assist him, he can get the ball to dart around with precision. Either Clint McKay or Mitchell Starc might make way for the Tasmanian.
Brett Lee, despite his advancing years, will be a factor at the Gabba.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), S. Tendulkar, G. Gambhir, V. Sehwag, V. Kohli, R. Sharma, S. Raina, R. Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, V. Kumar, U. Yadav, I. Pathan, P. Kumar, Rahul Sharma, M. Tiwari, P. Patel,
Australia: R. Ponting (captain), D. Warner, M. Wade, M. Hussey, D. Hussey, P. Forrest, D. Christian, G. Bailey, B. Lee, C. McKay, M. Starc, B. Hilfenhaus, X. Doherty, J. Holland.
Play starts at 9.20 a.m. IST