DLF Cup September 11, 2006

Rusty reflexes and reputations to defend

If Tendulkar and Sehwag can revive the chemistry at the top of the order, even Australia's famed bowling line-up could be in for a struggle © Getty Images

The three teams taking part in the DLF Cup will be hoping that history doesn't repeat itself. The last time they played each other in a three-cornered contest, way back in 1991-92, Australia went on to beat India in the World Series final. Yet, none of the teams went on to make much of an impression at the World Cup that followed, shunted out of the semi-final places by the likes of New Zealand and the new boys, South Africa.

Some sections of the Australian media are already querying the value of this tournament. The spectre of injuries, with the Ashes just two months away, and skepticism over the BCCI's plans to promote the game in non-traditional centres had much to do with that. India and West Indies will, however, see it as a tremendous opportunity to test themselves against the very best. And with the exception of the rested Adam Gilchrist, Australia have arrived here with as strong a team as they could hope to field.

Rustiness could well play a part. India and West Indies last played in early July, and their one-day series - won 4-1 by the rejuvenated Caribbean outfit - was as far back as late May, while Australia last got their flannels dirty on their tour of Bangladesh in April.

Shortly before that, they had suffered the humiliation of being unable to defend 434 against South Africa, an eventuality that would have been almost unthinkable had a certain GD McGrath been in the line-up. Australia remain a formidable side without him, but even at the ripe old age of 36, he's the X-factor that can never be discounted. McGrath's presence will also give Brett Lee even greater freedom to let rip, and it will also be interesting to see how the lanky Stuart Clark - impressive in his role as McGrath's replacement - goes against the shot-happy Indians, both East and West.

The batting is intimidating on paper, with the likes of Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds capable of turning a match in the space of a few overs. And for Michael Clarke, who launched his Test career so memorably against India two years ago, it's another chance to rediscover the sort of form that made him one of the game's most exciting young talents.

India also have a couple of young 'uns on the road to redemption. After some stellar displays with both bat and ball last season, the wheels came off for Irfan Pathan in the West Indies. So too Suresh Raina, who caught the eye with some superb knocks before it all went awry in the Caribbean.

India will be hamstrung in the initial exchanges by the illness that has ruled Yuvraj Singh out of at least one game. Yuvraj was in resplendent form last season, going from mercurial talent to genuinely consistent matchwinner with some sublime efforts in pressure situations.

His absence will be offset by the return of Sachin Tendulkar, the most successful batsman in the history of the white-ball game. If he and Virender Sehwag can revive the chemistry at the top of the order, even Australia's famed bowling line-up could be in for a struggle. Tendulkar may also play his part with the ball, as India explore their options ahead of the Champions Trophy on home soil. If Brett Lee's assessment that the ball will swing is correct, then India are likely to have Munaf Patel or S Sreesanth sharing the new ball with Pathan, leaving the newly consistent Ajit Agarkar to operate as first change.

With so many part-time slow bowling options, Ramesh Powar may struggle to get a game in tandem with Harbhajan Singh, except in the unlikely event of Les Burdett, the Adelaide curator, preparing a square turner.

For a team that has always prided itself on its array of fast-bowling talent, West Indies also have one of the one-day game's better slow bowlers in Chris Gayle, whose height and accuracy makes him so hard to get away. Gayle though will be a second line of attack, with Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor expected to provide shock value with the new ball. Ian Bradshaw and Corey Collymore form a steady support cast.

With the last hurrah not far away, Brian Lara will also be keen to impose himself with the bat. Gayle's destructive capabilities in that regard are perfectly complemented by the maturity with which Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul bat these days. Their game-breaker, though, could be the ebullient Dwayne Bravo, whose allround skills and composure in sweaty-palm moments had much to do with the pasting that India got in the Caribbean.

If the rankings are any guide, it should be a tussle between Australia and India, with West Indies providing the nuisance value. Yet, as Bravo and his mates showed not so long ago, rankings don't count for much when you tap into the inspiration that can elevate your skills to a higher plane. And what better way to ambush Australia than to catch them cold, coming straight out of a hibernation that would put a hedgehog to shame.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo