ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
India v Australia, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
Ponting banks on Australia's history
March 23, 2011
Australia meeting India in a World Cup quarter-final feels like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal clashing in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. It could have been the dream match-up for the April 2 decider, the reigning champions three times over fighting off the ambitious and talented challengers; the billion-strong host nation against a side that never takes a backward step.
Now it is not to be, and in any case that is disrespectful to strong outfits like South Africa and Pakistan, who finished on top of their groups, not to mention the co-hosts Sri Lanka. But bookmakers are astute judges, and with eight sides left, Ricky Ponting's men and MS Dhoni's side remained among the four favourites.
By Thursday night one team will be dust. At first glance, it looks like the Australians could be getting ready for a weekend flight back to their families, and watching the semi-finals from the comfort of their living-rooms. India have two of the tournament's five leading run scorers, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag; Australia haven't any in the top ten. And when the teams met in a warm-up match in Bangalore just over a month ago, it was India who came out on top.
The home-ground advantage for India should be enormous; even though they have lost their past four ODIs in Ahmedabad, the noise of a partisan crowd in such an important game cannot be underestimated. Every time India score a run, the Australians will be deafened, unable to hear themselves think, let alone the advice of the fielding coach Mike Young; each wicket that Australia take will be greeted with a disconcerting silence.
And yet, for all the factors favouring India, there is something about Australia - they know how to win cut-throat matches. Last time Australia failed to lift the World Cup, Steven Smith was six years old, although as they proved against Pakistan last week, they haven't entirely forgotten how to lose at the world's biggest tournament.
Importantly, the Australians know what it takes to beat India at home, as they did with an undermanned squad in late 2009, when they claimed the ODI series 4-2. Four of their players, including Michael Clarke, Nathan Bracken and Brad Haddin, were unavailable due to injury before that series began, and another five, Brett Lee among them, flew home mid-tour as the casualty list grew.
"Wherever we've played India and whenever we've played them, we've had a really good record against them," Ricky Ponting said. "The last tour here in one-day cricket [in 2009] was one of the proudest I've had as a player and as a captain. We had five or six of our better players out and they were at full strength, and we managed to beat them in their conditions. We can take some confidence from that.
"We know that our last game wasn't our best game in the tournament so far, but by the same token, a loss when that happened was not going to be the worst thing for us I don't think. They've seemingly got through reasonably well, but some of the collapses they've had with their batting in the last couple of games have been quite dramatic. Hopefully ... we can really expose that middle to late order in this game and see where that takes us."
Three times in this tournament India's middle order and tail have folded quicker than a poker player holding a 7-2 off-suit. If Australia can deal the right cards to the top order, they know they could take the pot. They're also aware that Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni all have considerably lower batting averages against Australia than their career marks.
Not that Australia should be overly bullish. They have struggled against quality spin over the past month, and with Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Yusuf Pathan and in-form part-timer in Yuvraj all ready to work their magic, the Australians are searching for new ways to handle the slow stuff. That is especially so if Ashwin takes the new ball.
"If there's an element in the tournament where we haven't been at our absolute best, it's probably been earlier on in the innings, not being as positive as we need to be," Ponting said. "That doesn't mean all-out aggression and taking massive risks and hitting fours and sixes, it just means finding ways to rotate strike better and putting a bit more pressure back on the bowlers. We might have a few surprises up our sleeve for the Indians as well, if they want to bowl spin early on, there might be a few different things that might happen."
Quite what those will be remain to be seen. But one thing is certain: by Thursday night, there will be five other quarter-finalists glad to see either the co-hosts or the reigning champions out of the tournament.