Australia v India, 10th ODI, CB Series, Sydney February 23, 2008

Batting remains the worry for both sides

Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn't worried about his inability to hit boundaries as long as the runs are flowing © Getty Images

It's hard to predict the nature of tomorrow's encounter between Australia and India considering how the two sides have played in the tournament so far. Even though Australia are nine points ahead of India, Ricky Ponting's team are facing the same hard questions as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co. Batting remains the main concern for the both these teams with majority of their famed batting line-ups struggling for consistency.

The problems begin at the top with the openers unable to provide stability. Except for Adam Gilchrist, the others like Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden and Virender Sehwag have struggled for runs through the series. The problems get compounded when you take into the account the brittle nature of their middle orders, especially Australia's with batsmen like Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds in a rut - Ponting has an average of 10.66 while Symonds has made 42 in six games at 8.40.

India might gather confidence from the fact that most of their batsmen have got the starts. Batsmen like Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma and Irfan Pathan have shown the character to hang around and have come up with some constructive innings. They have tried at least if not convincingly. For Australia it's been a matter of squeezing out a respectable target and then relying on their bowling to turn the match in their favour.

And both teams have relied on individuals who have shown a strong temperament to hang in the middle and carry out the rescue job. And these guys have carried the burden of the collective failure of their mates without complaining. If Dhoni has proved he is an able leader, the Michaels - Clarke and Hussey - have delivered for Australia.

"We are doing well in bits and pieces. If they can be consistent that will be good," Dhoni said, as India came out for their final practice session at the SCG on Saturday. India have been experimenting with their batting order but Dhoni insists that is not the reason for the batsman's problems. "We are pretty much sure about the pattern of the batting order. One of the good things is that most of our batsmen adapt well at any position, so that really helps."

In the previous game, against Sri Lanka in Adelaide, Dhoni remained undefeated on 50 as he led India to victory. Surprisingly, despite his explosive batting skills, the Indian captain didn't even score one boundary or a six. He altered his game according to the conditions. "It's difficult to adapt, but it's important to get runs and play according to the demands of the game," he said. "As long as you can maintain a strike-rate it doesn't matter if you don't hit fours."

It's been a rough series for Andrew Symonds and Ricky Ponting © Getty Images

Despite reaching the finals, Australia are not sitting pretty and the main cause is their batting failure. James Hopes, the Australian allrounder, had a different take on the situation. "You can call it bad batting or exceptional bowling. The wickets are slow and it takes a bit to get in for a batsman.

"The batsmen are not scoring a lot of runs given the conditions we are playing in where some of the pitches are low and slow," Hopes said. Still Australia have lost only one game so far and Hopes feels one advantage is the toss which Ponting has called right on most occasions. "We are getting to bat first, so our bowlers know what they are bowling to."

Hopes insisted Australia won't be taking tomorrow's game lightly. "India have some of the form bowlers and class players like Sachin, Sehwag, and Yuvraj [Singh] have started to score runs. They will come hard knowing that if they beat us tomorrow they will be the form team going into the final," he said. "We will be trying to get the psychological edge tomorrow regardless of whether it is a high scoring or low scoring game."

Meanwhile, India need to work out whether to continue the five-bowler theory the Indians utilised in their last two games or go with an extra batsman. "To play five bowlers the batsmen need to be on the top of their form", Dhoni said. "With five bowlers you are getting the opposition out early but you are not getting the runs. But at the same time, if you play four bowlers your part-timers might give some runs."

With runs being the need of the hour, India might recall Sehwag at the expense of allrounder Praveen Kumar. As for Australia, with Brett Lee coming back after a two-game break, Mitchell Johnson is likely to sit out.

Australia (likely) 1 Adam Gilchrist, 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 James Hopes, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Stuart Clark, 11 Nathan Bracken.

India (likely) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 7 Robin Uthappa, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Munaf Patel.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo