India desperate for a turnaround
India head into Wednesday's game against West Indies seeking their first one-day win since May 18. It's been a depressing turnaround for a side that played such superb one-day cricket for most of last season, and it will need two very good performances, or some assistance from the weather gods, if they're to avoid an early flight home.
West Indies, guaranteed a place in the final after clinching their second win of the tournament against Australia on Monday night, may tinker with the combination, with Runako Morton certain to come into the middle order. Corey Collymore, "one of the first names on the team-sheet", according to Brian Lara, may also play, provided he recovers from a right thigh problem.
Morton is likely to replace Dwayne Bravo, who has a slight swelling on his wrist after diving forward in an attempt to catch Matthew Hayden, and Collymore, if he plays, should take Jerome Taylor's place. Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels will provide the slow-bowling option, while Wavell Hinds' medium pace may also come into play.
"We still want to win the game, and we've got to play the type of cricket we've been playing before," said Gayle, whose blistering 79 played a big part in the defeat of Australia. And though he had clattered the Indian bowling to all parts when the teams met last week, Gayle made it clear that there was no question of taking things lightly. Asked if both sets of pace bowlers were struggling, he said: "India have a good attack with [Munaf] Patel and [Ajit] Agarkar opening the bowling now. We're not going to take them for granted. Our guys started well against Australia and we just have to maintain the discipline right through the game."
Greg Chappell, India's coach, hinted at changes, and Sreesanth could get the nod ahead of Rudra Pratap Singh as the team searches for more penetration in the pace department. The batting line-up is unlikely to be disturbed, with the slump in wet conditions against Australia being considered more an aberration than anything else. "We haven't picked the team for tomorrow's game yet," said Chappell. "I wouldn't say big changes, no, but there will be some."
Though he qualified it by saying it wasn't cast in stone, Chappell also suggested that India would continue with Irfan Pathan in the No.3 position, leaving the middle order slots to Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, each of whom will fancy clearing the ropes at the rather small Kinrara Oval.
Given Lara's fluency against the turning ball, India are unlikely to risk Ramesh Powar, leaving the spin burden with Harbhajan Singh, Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, if needed. The onus though will be on the batsmen to replicate their form of the opening game, when Sachin Tendulkar led the way with a glorious unbeaten 141. Talking about the experience of bowling to one of the game's greats, Bravo said: "He played very well that day, and he picked up my slower ball. I didn't get anything right that day, but I wasn't really putting myself under any pressure because he's one of the best in the world.
"The team's game-plan is to get him early. He's the backbone of the team - him and Rahul - and I think if we get both of them early, they are in for some trouble. I think the Indians will be under a lot of pressure. I must say that they are a very good one-day team. If they don't win, I think they won't qualify and that's bad news for India."
With no win in their last six matches, India desperately need to turn a corner. And having been pushed into one by a combination of their own frailties and the weather, only a tigerish display will get their season up and running. It's time for the big boys to stand up, snarl a little and fight their way out of trouble.
India: 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Rahul Dravid (capt), 3 Irfan Pathan, 4 Virender Sehwag, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 S Sreesanth, 11 Munaf Patel.
West Indies: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Runako Morton, 7 Wavell Hinds, 8 Dwayne Smith, 9 Carlton Baugh (wk), 10 Ian Bradshaw, 11 Corey Collymore.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo