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September 21, 2006
Four days after he went for the small matter of 87 from seven overs against West Indies, Stuart Clark has an immediate chance at redemption as Australia take on India for a place in the DLF Cup final. Under normal circumstances, it's doubtful whether he would have played, but with Australia having pencilled in their teams for the four league games long ago, he gets this opportunity against an Indian side that will no doubt do their best to target him.
Clark is a cool customer, and his decision to keep the match ball after the pounding he received on Monday said much about his unflappable nature, but with Shane Watson, who has had an outstanding tournament, and Nathan Bracken missing from the line-up, there will be immense pressure on him when he comes on as first change for Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.
McGrath gave indications of being back to his best in the two matches he played, and Lee was into his stride straight away against West Indies. If the Indian top order bat as they did against the gentle medium pace of Dwayne Smith and Dwayne Bravo, they may as well not bother turning up.
But India have a bit of a history when it comes to these sudden-death contests. And in Sachin Tendulkar, they have a man apparently anxious to prove that rumours of his decline are highly premature. What they don't have is a batting order in any sort of form. Much will depend once again on what sort of start Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar can give them.
Virender Sehwag needs to improve on his tournament aggregate of 18 runs, and Yuvraj Singh could do with a run or two. As for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seemingly in superb touch until the most atrocious of hoicks against West Indies, this is an opportunity to get back to the form of last season, when he slammed most attacks he faced to all corners. For these men, and others like Suresh Raina, this is the ultimate test. West Indies may await in the final if they get through, but victory against a near full-strength Australian side is as good as it gets.
Dravid and Greg Chappell will no doubt have taken a close look at footage from the last game they played against Australia. Watson and Michael Clarke, who made the bulk of the runs then, sit out this one, but the relentlessly consistent and prolific Michael Hussey will pose an entirely different challenge. Once again, spin could hold the key, with Australia having struggled to eke out 68 runs in 20 overs against Harbhajan Singh and Sehwag in the previous match.
That's not to say that India lack firepower in the pace department. Munaf Patel has improved with every game, while Ajit Agarkar has allied consistency to his skiddy pace and swing. There's also Sreesanth, whose genuinely quick spell on Wednesday prompted many to wonder why he had been left out of the squad for the Champions Trophy.
These two teams usually don't do dull games, and with Tendulkar and McGrath on collision course once again, this has every ingredient required to be another tasty encounter. The winners will go into the final in confident mood, leaving the losers to put salve on their wounded pride ahead of the Champions Trophy.
India (likely): 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Rahul Dravid (capt), 3 Virender Sehwag, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Ajit Agarkar, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Rudra Pratap Singh, 10 S Sreesanth, 11 Munaf Patel.
Australia 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Stuart Clark, 11 Glenn McGrath.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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